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In Theory: Is America becoming less civil?

April 13, 2012

America is becoming more rude. That's the opinion of several writers and bloggers, and they're backed up by a Rasmussen Report survey that says 76% of Americans believe the nation is becoming less civilized.

A similar study by Weber Shandwick says 65% of respondents believe there is a major problem with civility in the U.S.

Writing on www.npr.com, Linton Weeks berates the fact that fewer people seem to be using basic pleasantries such as “please” and “thank you,” and say “no problem,” “sure,” or “you bet,” instead of the traditional “you're welcome.” Weeks quotes Lisa Gache, the co-founder of Beverly Hills Manners, who blames today's casual attitudes for the decrease in manners. “Casual conversation, casual dress and casual behavior have hijacked practically all areas of life, and I do not think it is doing anyone a service,” says Gache.

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Blogger Greg Smith, a psychiatrist, puts some of the blame on technology. “It has become easier to fire off a quick email … than to purposefully sit down and compose, pen and mail a thank-you note,” he says as an example. He also cites the fact that many people are glued to their cell phones, MP3 players and tablets, even while at work, and seem to have no time to engage in conversation with a real person. Other suggested reasons include the stresses of modern life, the coarsening of political discourse, and TV and movies.

Q: Is society losing its manners?

It would seem to be so. But our lack of manners isn't something that happened overnight. The decline has been a long time coming. That's not to say that I know how, or why, or when the process started.

I can remember black-and-white TV, and the shows that ran in the pre-color era never used words that are an everyday occurrence now. Also, the commercials in the black-and-white era would not mention the problems that today's TV commercials mention: erectile dysfunction, hemorrhoids, and itches in embarrassing places.

I think we also have lost patience, which is probably a symbol of our rudeness. It's as if our whole society has become afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder. We can't stand to wait, and if we are forced to do so, we get grumpy mighty fast.

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