Two thousand years ago statesman Seneca shared this thought, “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness,” a somewhat ironic utterance considering the state of affairs in an ancient civilization run much of the time by madmen. When not being invaded by barbarians, Romans acted much like barbarians themselves, invading and pillaging everything around them. Nero burned down Rome to make room for his palatial palace and then burned captured Christians to provide light for his lush gardens. It can’t be more self-serving than that.
Or can it? Although our society doesn’t condone such savage practices as igniting human torches, America seems to have adopted a similar me-first ideology. We have attacked and invaded other countries that have posed possible threats to our existence while here at home hurtful tactics are not only political but also personal. Too often we are impatient, impolite, demeaning, and dismissive to those around us. A recent U. S. News & World Report article entitled “The American Uncivil Wars” states “89% of Americans think incivility is a serious problem and that 78% of Americans think incivility has worsened in the past ten years.”
Why do we behave this way? Has our national megalomania swollen to the extent that we behave this way because we think we can and that self is all that matters? Experts suggest the entertainment and social cultures give us permission to do so. Escalation of crudeness may be the result of crass television and movie scripts and degrading song lyrics; but what media may be to modeling bad behavior, social networking might be to harboring it, thus enabling us to anonymously aim our rudeness at others, strike, and disappear into the obscurity of cyberspace.
If anonymity and its ensuing depersonalization got us into this current incivility mess, is it possible that onymity could get us out? Could regarding others as we wish to be looked upon personalize our daily interactions and rekindle respect and kindness within our culture? 90% of Americans feel incivility is a problem. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that a problem exists.
Battered by hostile waves of incivility, Seneca’s thoughts stand as hope for human kindness. Throughout the centuries he has not stood alone. In 1942 Nazi Germany young Anne Frank huddled in hiding awaiting her discovery and death, yet her diary continued to reflect her hope, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”