What happened to good manners, common courtesy, respect and consideration for the other humans in our world? And why did social media become such an anti-social and divisive communication tool?
As kids, as soon as we could talk, we were taught to say please if we wanted something and thank you when we received it. You said thank you to people who were kind or served you in a store or gave you a gift. You said yes, please if you were asked if you wanted parsnips for dinner, even if you didn’t like them at all. You said excuse me if you stepped in front of someone or needed to get around someone in the grocery aisle or squeezed past them in a crowded theatre to get to the middle seat or needed to get by someone to catch a bus or wend your way through a crowded airport.
People in authority were treated with courtesy even when they were not very nice people or fair. Even if you were a troublemaker, a truant or a rough character, you could be forgiven because you had good manners. Good manners were a sign of a good upbringing, moral fiber, integrity.
Courtesy toward the people around you was and is a sign of social awareness. We are not alone in the world, there are people around us from family to friends to the larger community who live with us on this planet. And everyone deserves respect. Even those you disagree with. Social interaction has responsibilities attached to it. The old adage about treating others the way you want to be treated is a solid starting point.
Good manners were highly prized in the last century. From table manners to conversations and debate to interactions with authority figures and all daily contact with others in the big world.
But much more than that, we were taught to be considerate to strangers even if they weren’t very courteous to us. That’s a tough one for sure. What about those people who you don’t like or who dislike you? How can you treat someone with courtesy when they are so clearly wrong or rude or indifferent to everyone around them or flat out disagree with you? We all know those boorish individuals who seem oblivious to any form of courtesy. But the rule stands. Because others have no manners doesn’t give you license to respond the same way. Taking the high road in any situation is better for the soul and psyche. As a friend of mine says, there are no traffic jams on the high road.
With the introduction of social media, meant to connect us more often to more people, there has emerged an escalating erosion of simple courtesy and people now feel free to say things on social media posts they often would not or could not say in person. Anonymity makes it possible to bully and malign and insult others. What is considered unacceptable, immoral and perhaps illegal in the real world is permitted in the world of disassociated contact with others. People can jump to conclusions, make instant judgements and lash out with no thought or reason.
As people have become more vocal and emboldened on social media, the personal responsibility for what we say has disappeared. As a natural consequence, the rudeness and aggression we have seen in peoples written words is spilling out into our interactions in the physical world. The often-unhinged anger and sense of entitlement we are seeing in protests and public dialogue has grown and expanded from the disembodiment of social media, the veil of anonymity that a social media name and profile provides. People are no longer held personally responsible for what their alter ego on twitter is saying.
As people have abandoned the simple and common courtesy of a society coexisting with each of other, freedom of speech has morphed into freedom to be rude and vulgar and uncivilized, to incite violence with no personal consequences.
We no longer debate issues, lay out our argument and verify it with facts and evidence, presenting a cogent and convincing case for our point of view. Instead, we see people who rage and rave with wild and exaggerated accusations, noise and fury replacing the ability to prove a point or reflect anything based in fact and truth. And of course, when all else fails, resorting to name calling and character assassination is the refuge of the immature.
People are bullied relentlessly on social media. Those in our society who are malcontent or disenfranchised or uninformed and bullies now have free reign to be someone on Facebook that they have never been allowed to be in real life. The bitterness and frustration of personal experiences and failures has given them the self-declared right to be obnoxious and cruel.
Not content with being a semi-anonymous figure posting hate and nonsense from the privacy of your screen, the anti this or that league has poured out into society, taking their anti-social and intolerant views from online media into the streets. People are bullied and harassed for following the law, or being a care provider, or being an elected public representative or any number of things the angry mob has taken a dislike to this week.
The more human society has evolved, the less we seem to care about each other, the creatures we share the planet with and the very earth itself. Selfishness and self-absorption have replaced social awareness and a basic understanding of the common good. The quest for instant happiness or gratification coupled with the veil of anonymity on social media has given birth to a time of disconnection and isolation. We gaze into our phones, while hurling insults and invective at strangers online or in public forums. No one and nothing meets the moving target of expectations.
The pendulum of social behaviour and awareness, social mores, frequently swings from one extreme arc to the other determining what is considered morally acceptable or unacceptable within any given culture. The historic times of ignorance, prejudice and injustice are replaced by social change and growth as humans.
I believe we are overdue for a shift in social behaviour!