From my perspective at least, it’s a chicken or egg question. Was civil discourse among a diverse human population desired, or even required, in order for civilization to form and flourish? Or did civilization initially coalesce, with civility to follow shortly after as a means to increase socioeconomic efficiency and to encourage people from killing or maiming each other by setting minimum standards for public conduct?
Or could it possibly be more symbiotic, with both components required in varying degrees and amounts for either component to survive and thrive in the combined form of ‘civilization’?
I am a child of the 1950’s and 1960’s, a time so far removed from today’s brave new world that, even to me, feels like ancient history. This is not to say it was all pomp and circumstance back then, but in many respects so-called civilization was much more civil in my youth than it is now. And this applies to just about all modern social interaction, regardless of the underlying medium, method or mix.
Nothing brings this stark contrast to mind more than when I am out and about pursuing simple chores and errands. ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ are nearly absent from the public’s vernacular, particularly among those under the age of thirty. Holding a door open for either sex has actually earned me a sharp rebuke on several occasions, always from someone young enough to be my (grand)son.
Whenever I walk in front of anyone, such as along a narrow supermarket aisle or inside a crowded restaurant, many of the younger people I encounter are somewhat surprised to hear me say “excuse me” as I transgress their personal space. On more than a few occasions, the perplexed person asked why I was excusing myself or indicated I had offended them in some manner. But those over fifty years of age nearly always understand and appreciate my consideration.
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