Get our newsletters

Chatterbox: Social climate change


Back in the days when Fred Flintstone and I were in school, polite society was, simply and reflexively, more aware and respectful of children, teens, older folks, and some graciousness of life.

What went on in the back room at bars, or was sold in the back room of the magazine store, was another story; much of it was as sad as it is today. Out front, though, there were some common manners that kept life pleasant.

Again, we note that not all things are true for all people at any given time. Still, there’s a lot to be said for what was good then, that’s now gone. For example, a female, a pregnant woman, or an older person would always and politely be given a seat on a crowded train or bus. Today, we seem to implement the convenient changes faster than any other, including the equality of people’s seating long before the equality of people’s paychecks. So, a common pleasantry, that made life just a little more interactive and sweet, bites the dust whether due to attitude, apathy or the selectivity of progress.

Media, which was closely monitored for the benefit of innocence and decorum back in the day, has also eroded; it’s unreliable now. Even the commercials during acceptable viewing are inappropriate for youngsters or polite company. Much regular programming on television, easily accessible to every age viewer, has become highly suggestive, and movies have gone from what was once strictly coded to something completely unregulated. The entertainment industry has members who say it’s a necessary reality element and necessary to freedom of artistic expression. Still, tough guys like Cagney and Bogart made plenty of their characters fearsome without it, and femmes fatale made their characters steamy even within the confines.

This may be the by-product of progress as we watch the times change. Still, we have, somehow, thrown the baby out with the bathwater … again – and the result is the normalization of the general decay of social graces.

We’re not just losing ground in interactive behavior but in our dress and in the simplest of conversational language as well as much else.

Recently, I was in a parking lot. Leaving my car, I noticed the car parked next to me was empty and not running, but the lights were on. I was going to report it when I got inside the store. As I was getting the tag number, the owner happened to approach.

“Did you hit my (expletive)?” he asked from under his dirty and deteriorated baseball hat.

I asked if it was his car, at which time he said it was and iterated his profanity.

I maintained my composure and told him his lights were on. I told him I understood he may have been alarmed, but mentioned the aloofness with which many people today use profanity, even when not necessary. He did apologize for his language.

On social media, even calm and positive responses will contain words formerly only used in a moment of a crazed absence of decorum. It’s that absence of decorum that, clearly and sadly, seems to have become the order of the day. It’s a deterioration of common respect and denotes a serious lack of self-respect as well. It affects every facet of our life in America from seats on a train, to language at lunch, to respect for others of any age in all situations, and defies every level of familiarity … or the lack thereof.

Recently, we heard a new member of Congress call the President a word most unbecoming to her office and one which most people should bristle at. Indeed, even the President, himself, has lowered the bar greatly on public decorum as well as the verbal graces of his office.

I, personally, think that much of the behavior and language we are exposed to so regularly today are the fallout that is part and parcel to our great push for equality. Now, with many fewer holds barred and even our leadership behaving and talking in such a scandalous way, we can hardly expect the guy in the parking lot or the anonymous people on social media to hold themselves to any standard which is higher.

All people with the great amounts of public exposure have a great impact on what will or won’t be tolerated among the general population, strictly because of the power of desensitization. Still, though public figures may expedite it, this freight train jumped its rails long ago. It’s up to us to demand and demonstrate a better choice.