Americans These Days!

FROM red-light running to road rage, from cellphone chatter in public to bad behavior and foul language in grocery store lines and on and off sports fields – Americans arguably are ruder than ever.

Consider "Aggravating Circumstances: A Status Report on Rudeness in America," that ably documents a loss of civility in public and private life. The nonpartisan Public Agenda Foundation found 89 percent of Americans agreeing that "a lack of respect and courtesy is a serious problem for our society." Eighty-four percent said "too many parents failing to teach respect to their kids" was the leading reason for the rudeness.

Other factors included crowding, fast-paced living, apathy, negative role models, amorality, and selfishness. Quite a list.

Social scientists say when population density goes up, helpfulness goes down. So what about the spike in civility after Sept 11? Eighteen percent said that phenomenon already is over.

The study did find some refreshing honesty about all the rudeness. Forty-one percent said (regretfully, we assume) that they themselves have behaved rudely. Could such self-knowledge make for the beginnings of positive change?

Civility is not an alien concept to Americans. To regain sensitivity to others would simply mean realizing that kindness in public behavior helps build and maintain a society that we all want to live in.

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