Archive for Saturday, June 19, 1999


June 19, 1999


We need more civility and we are seeing a growing clash of ideas about how to get there.

Many people are trying in numerous ways to restore greater civility and courtesy to American life. There is a lack of these commodities in our era and those who were around when we had more of those qualities would like to see a return to such "good old days."

The trouble is, too many citizens have become so enamored with personal freedom that they are quick to respond to anything that even remotely seems to hinder their ability to "do their own thing." In any atmosphere where bad behavior seems to be growing, the civility police often get into trouble plying their trade -- no matter how good their intentions.

A recent Journal-World front page story told about the local swimming pool manager's trying to cut down on loitering that could lead to problems. And right below was a news report out of Baton Rouge saying the Louisiana legislature was on the verge of passing the governor's bill requiring pupils to address teachers and other school employees as "ma'am" or "sir," or to use an appropriate title such as Mr., Miss, Ms. or Mrs. That could become the first law of its kind in the nation.

There are movements toward uniforms in public schools, installation of elaborate security measures and countless other ventures to improve behavior. School killings by disturbed youngsters and adults have focused attention on keeping people in line, with good reason.

The "courtesy titles" in the Louisiana legislative situation may sound good at first, but they can become quite restrictive and lead to all sorts of wasteful nit-picking. Teachers and school administrators have enough legalese to fool with without adding this load to their burden. The answer, of course, is for the youngsters to learn courtesy and common decency at the family level. Too often, anymore, there is no family level as we once thought of it, and too many schools have become babysitting and disciplinary agencies rather than educational sites.

The truth is that America does lack the kind of civility that would improve its social, economic and financial climate. And there are those who are willing and even eager to try more drastic measures to change that. Then there are those who are caught up unrealistically in the issue of personal freedom. It is easy to see where both sides are coming from and there are valid points to be made by all.

Where do edicts become petty and dictatorial and where do they become necessary? We are facing an ongoing struggle to find a a common ground, to make as many people as possible feel happy and more secure. While the urgency tends to make many of us think the situation is unique, it is not.

Noble humans for centuries have been trying to ingrain in everyone the concept of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and nobody so far has come up with the perfect solution. But that doesn't mean we should try any less hard than we have in the past.

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