I really don’t want to get old before my time. But I’m beginning to think my grandparents were right: the world really is “going to hell in a hand basket.”
I’m talking about the demise of civility. Witness these recent examples:
In Boston, one hockey parent beat another hockey parent to death.
A Florida little league coach broke the nose of an umpire.
“Road rage” on the George Washington Parkway near D.C. caused a head-on collision, killing several innocent people.
Drivers who disregard crosswalks and speed limits have increased pedestrian deaths in San Francisco.
Virginia Beach initiated a “Decency Patrol” to quell the increase of foul language and crude behavior.
Our current blight results from the demise of civility. And the demise of civility results from the loss of self-discipline. Loss of self-discipline comes from a loss of self-control, which in turn stems from a diminished sense of personal responsibility.
Failure to take personal responsibility results from loss of respect–for others, for God, for the created order. Can we not say the root of every problem is selfishness or self-centeredness? Dare we say, sin?
Lack of respect follows naturally from failure to develop personal values, which goes back to loss of community, and loss of family as the mainstay of community. Parents and significant others fail to model values, and we know the adage is true: more is often caught than taught.
“The oldest virtues of communal harmony, cultural coherence, and dignity of the person derive far more from our practiced civility with one another than from our attempts to frighten, harass, and coerce each other into not doing whatever it is we don’t like,” wrote Cynthia Wagner in The Futurist.
We can try to reclaim these old virtues by rebuilding the moral infrastructure of community, again starting with family.
Civility cannot be legislated. It can only be restored by building values, instilling respect, learning to take personal responsibility, developing self-control and self-discipline. And they should follow in that order.
“Perhaps there should be a voluntary Grownup Society with its own code of honor: I will be chaste, I will be honest, I will put my children first, I will earn my paycheck, I will not spend more than I earn,” suggested Frederica Mathewes-Green in Christianity Today. Add, “I will be civil.”
Perhaps we may recover civility by simply heeding the words of Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
Teach it to your children. Live it for your children. Ah, there’s the path.
Mike Harton is Group Leader of the Church Ministries Group, Virginia Baptist Resource Center.