Has it really become so difficult to simply be nice to one another? Or do Americans just not consider civility all that important any more?
It might not have taken a survey for Americans to suspect that incivility is on the rise in our country, but the most recent “Civility in America” nationwide survey makes it clear.
Civility shouldn’t be challenging. It amounts, basically to showing respect for other people. Some survey respondents cited the Golden Rule, which is reasonable.
And yet, 95 percent of respondents believe we have a civility problem, 63 percent consider it a major problem and 81 percent think uncivil behavior contributes to violence. If it’s surprising that 87 percent of us think it’s uncivil to talk on the phone while having a conversation with someone else, it’s probably because it seems that about 87 percent of us are guilty of it, at least occasionally.
What’s not surprising is that respondents consider government the most uncivil aspect of life, followed by the public as a whole, the media and then Republicans in Congress (though Democrats aren’t far behind.) The least uncivil aspects are dinner table conversations, friends and family, PBS and local newspapers. Between those extremes were everything from schools to big corporations to small businesses and news organizations, though YouTube, Facebook, blogs and Twitter were generally considered more uncivil than civil.
Social media take a good bit of the heat for incivility; 70 percent think the Internet encourages uncivil behavior, and 34 percent who expect civility to get worse blame Twitter. That stands to reason. Not only do some people speak before they think, they also don’t think before they hit “Send.” Other users, perhaps overconfident about their anonymity, recklessly lash out.
Understandably, the survey’s summary called the Internet “the modern-day playground for bullies.” Concern over cyberbullying is on the rise, with 43 percent of respondents saying they worry about it “a great deal.” One-quarter of parents said their children have experienced cyberbullying.
If there is a bright spot, it’s that more Americans are willing to confront incivility. For instance, a growing percentage of Americans — 50 percent —say they have broken off a friendship because of incivility and call others out when they’re rude.
Unfortunately, 80 percent say that the level of civility won’t improve until our government leaders are more civil. Given the tone of discourse these days in Washington, we don’t recommend holding your breath.