The dictionary defines concert, so the director said Saturday night, as “a musical performance given in public, typically by several performers or of several separate compositions. (2) agreement, accordance, or harmony.” It was an opportunity to enjoy an evening with a thousand fans of symphony music. From the audience standing and singing the Star Spangled Banner to a medley of famous themes like the Sound of Music, the night and the performance were wonderful. And the point in the concert where the conductor asked military veterans to stand and be honored was wonderful.
The night was planned several weeks ago for our friends and us, to have dinner and enjoy the season-opening concert, San Diego Symphony at Bayside – on the waterfront downtown next to the Convention Center. The evening featured famous American composers and included masterful choral singing. Yet the night was unnecessarily in competition with a harbor cruise “party boat” going back and forth in the harbor all evening. While the symphony conductor was the picture of grace and civility, the operator, just offshore of our venue, was deliberately negligent, blaring the distracting beat, “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum” over and over, and over again. The conductor made light of it, and yet many of my fellow veterans in the audience (from 20 to 80 years in age) were visibly ready to form a boarding party.
It was a great metaphor for the “endangered species” of civility – particularly in America in 2018. On the way home by trolley, a young person zigged and zagged to step in front of us “old people” ( I spent 4 seconds before inserting my card in the ticket-dispensing machine) to try to get her trolley ticket first (until I harrumphed and she demurred). On social media, a person makes a comment both insulting the fans and actually containing some painful truth, of a particular topic (politics), and gets his (insert characteristic here) questioned. But the comment was deliberately meant to provoke anger.
I regularly encounter both Prius and BMW drivers who act as though they are the most important dignitaries on the road -tailgating, careening across lanes – to get two car lengths ahead – in rush hour. When I hold a door open as a courtesy for females (as I do for males) even among my workmates, there is a occasionally a woman under thirty who seems irritated that I did so. But age is not a predictor of civility. I see men my age with yard signs or bumper stickers that declare other human beings idiots, criminals or ignorant. It is common now for people to pick “sides”. There is no tolerance for differing opinion. And there is no standard where dialogue has to be reasoned, calm, and well-supported by easily (verified (and unbiased) observers.
How do we revert to civility norms?
I think that this decline in civility has both been inflamed by social media as well as our education system. For fifty years we have groomed people to believe they have the right to say what they want without consequences. A Utopian desire for harmonious acceptance, order, and a pain-free existence for everyone everywhere is not through government control. Either some are forced (Constitutional guarantees are repressed by power-brokers; disagreement is labelled “hate speech”) or are bribed (“living wage” increases worker support, recipients of “public assistance” are encouraged to remain on the “dole”) to be obedient, and the result is a lack of civility toward those who have different views.
One christian’s viewpoint
Most among the secular world see the faulty application of Christian theology by many as evidence of a faulty theology rather than faulty human beings. Any government that promotes officially-sanctioned multiple languages, cultural norms, legal precepts, and political ideologies, is not elevating civility among dis-unified people but instead further isolating individuals and groups into opposing factions. History is full of these lessons. “Balkanization” is a term where multiple ethnic, religious, linguistic, and religious fracturing is present. The first World War all the way through the “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslav (Balkan) states in the 1990s were due to this fracturing. Fear and paranoia of people who will not assimilate is thousands of years old. But governments that accommodate the noisy separatists and neglect the “deplorables”, risk permanent balkanization. It has been the national identity, as “Americans” regardless of all the other factors, that has maintained unity in the United States since the Nineteenth Century. The resurgence of socialism in American culture, in the absence of a truly spiritual understanding of brotherhood, respect, looking after the ill and the truly desperate, leading a peaceful existence and having a strong work ethic, is not going to achieve a concert in America or elsewhere.
Secular proposals to restore civility in America
Americans can try to restore a civil culture through man-made effort. But how do people restore civility?
- Restore ONE NATION: Celebrate our diversity in ethnic heritage but unify everyone who comes here – through the established immigration policies – to become AMERICAN. Stop using hyphen american in all our identifiers.
- Establish ONE language. All business, education, judicial dealings, social interaction should be performed in English. Teach different idioms and language, but everyone who wants to be a resident must read, write and speak English in everyday situations. Make it mandatory to pass an oral and written exam within 24 months of arrival – with intent to remain – to reside in the United States, and become a citizen. Make the language a requirement to obtain any public assistance.
- Restore the ONE culture. Quit the divisiveness of public – and public-funded institutions promoting ethnic separatism. Whatever color, race, creed, or political leanings, celebrate differences in the context of making the “melting pot” better.
- Prohibit any public official or lobbying group on behalf of any non-citizens, extra-national allegiances, from campaigning to support non-citizens, foreign governments, or business interests seeking to change immigration policies without a national vote.
- Restore GOD and belief in a Creator as acceptable teaching. Permit use of public property for the exercise of religion as with any other use. Get government out of the Belief business.
- Spiritual beliefs that do not contradict the good order an unity of a nation, are not legally barred.
- Atheism does not trump the rights of others to practice their spiritual beliefs in private or in public spaces.
- Non-government employers and places of employment that express particular religious beliefs cannot be forced through legal redress to change policies (adding “abortion coverage” to a health plan for an employer that publicly “pro-life”). Employment conditions are still voluntarily accepted by both parties – employer and employee.
- Public (government) employees are barred from expressing support for, or opposition to, insulting, belittling, or deriding a particular religious belief.
- The judicial branch of government only decides whether an action violates the law, not whether it is moral, ethical, proper, or the “intent” of the law-makers
- No elected official can refuse to enact voter-approved legislation that does NOT
- cause physical harm to individuals or groups
- bar individuals or groups from activities that do not seek to cause harm (violence, rebellion) or deny others their human rights
- No institution of government can be used to manipulate public information, sentiment, or coerce support for a particular national political entity in power. This also means no institution of government can be manipulated to deny another political entity the fair and equal opportunity in elections.
- No entity or institution serving the national interest – media service, local, state or national educational institution (public or privately-funded) can bar exercise of the Constitutional “freedom of speech”.
- Civility is a voluntary ideal but some focused practices could improve civility:
- Practice, starting in the home, schools, and social organizations that disagreement with the policies of a government official does not condone any action, outburst, or display abusing that office.
- Accept the outcome of elections. Bring change through the ballot box.
- Public figures or celebrities should not incite street protests and violence against law enforcement and other public safety officers.
- Leaders of religious orders should promote peaceful doctrines, respect for authority, and practices among their adherents.
- Engaging in personal attacks on or inciting abuse of the family members of a government official should be restrained by peers and not promoted as entertainment by media business, celebrities, and public officials.
- Civility is a voluntary ideal but some focused practices could improve civility:
Great article. I have been to many countries around the world and clearly there are other countries more civilized than ours which is sad. There is too much selfish behavior out there. On the subject of language, while I agree with learning English is a must for everyone. Native English speakers who refuse to learn another language (Spanish, French, German, or Chinese) puts us at a disadvantage for education and competition for trade with other countries. Most other industrial countries have dual language curriculum in their education system. Why can’t we?
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I learned 3 languages besides English in high school and college. Used them extensively traveling. Thanks for your thoughts Shane!