In Theory: Is America becoming less civil?

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, 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.

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.

Only yesterday at a gasoline station, two ladies were chatting while their cars were being filled up. They continued to chat, even after their tanks were full and the pumps were off. I was beginning to get irritated, but then I remembered that I'm a man of the cloth. So I backed up and used another gasoline pump.

However, after I filled up and was leaving, they were still yakking, but another motorist pulled up, and I thought I noticed some restiveness in her as she saw the never-ending conversation. So in Christian love, as I drove away, I shouted, “Jesus loves you — but I know you're both a couple of jerks!”

OK, I didn't really say that, but I thought it. So I'm not part of the solution; I'm part of the problem.

The Rev. C. L. “Skip” Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada


I believe American society is losing its manners.

Any more, it’s a pleasant surprise when a stranger is truly courteous to us. This is happening because as a society, we have progressively disconnected ourselves from God, who is the source of love. The Bible says that “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Without connection with him, we cannot love as we should. The lack of courtesy around us has proven it. The more our culture has declared independence from God, the more we’ve degraded ourselves and become uncivilized.

Paul warns us that “evil men … will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). Only one thing can check this degradation — turning to Jesus Christ, who alone can change our hearts and make us new people that love others the way God intended.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


Few people would argue with the assertion that our society is noticeably losing its manners — but I would not blame this trend on new technology, the stresses of modern life, or the acceptance of casual dress standards.

In my view, those are all simply excuses for bad behavior that avoid its root cause. The truth is far more difficult to face, and hits home in a profound way: I believe America’s decline in manners is a direct result of our decreasing educational and parenting standards.

Education levels and behavior have a very strong correlation, and shortcomings in one sphere will certainly affect the other. It’s a well-documented fact that many public school systems across the nation are graduating students without a solid education (thankfully, Glendale and La Cañada Unified are exceptions). Many of today’s teachers and their union representatives frequently protest their pay scale; I have yet to see them demonstrate over the failing results and the appalling conditions of their schools.

Regarding parenting, the trend of avoiding any discipline and letting children “find their own way” seems to be gaining ground at an alarming rate. The fact is that children need to be instructed how to behave; they are not born with behavior manuals pinned to their backs. They need parents who are engaged and consistent in setting proper expectations.

The net result of these twin failings in our society is a generation of young people that contains many narcissists — self-involved youths who think that everything will be served to them on a silver platter, and who don’t have the skills necessary to get ahead in life. We really should not be shocked when they don’t say “please” or “thank you,” or exhibit traditional manners.

It’s high time that we recognize our shortcomings and work together to create an environment where basic manners are emphasized. If we fail to reverse this trend, I fear it will have a strongly negative impact on the character of America. Once they are lost, courtesy and etiquette are hard to restore.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center


When I first came to California from Alabama, I was shocked to note that the church’s coffee hour hostesses could not put out treats until everyone was present; otherwise the children would race down from worship and maul the treats. Hmpf, I thought. In the South, our children would never be allowed to maul the coffee-hour treats, for heaven’s sake.

But my Southern sisters-in-law are happy to tell me how much mauling they witness, and how hard they work to teach manners. My mother became so concerned at the erosion of civility that she got certified in etiquette training and runs regular classes for children and teenagers (mostly paid for by their distressed grandparents). I know that you just envisioned my mother as a very stern, cold matron with a ruler, but it’s not like that. The kids love her classes because she wants them to know how to be comfortable in any setting. More importantly, she wants them to know how to make other people comfortable in any setting.

For that is the essence of hospitality and respect, isn’t it — that we are always attentive to how others around us are feeling? It is this essence that makes civility a question for religious leaders, for if we teach compassion for others, humility in our dealings, reconciliation in our relationships, and peacemaking in conflict, we must be aware that the first step is a basic recognition that when you stand before me (or answer my call), you are a person made in the image of God. Even if you are in India and cannot help me with any of my concerns. Especially if you are at my dinner table and trying to figure out if your cell phone goes on the left with your fork, or on the right with your spoon.

In conclusion, gentle readers, let us persist in our RSVPs, our thank-you notes, and our small courtesies to both friends and strangers. In doing so, we show respect and create a better world. It’s worth a little extra effort.

The Rev. Paige Eaves
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church


Pardon me? Not in my house, as far as I can help it, but of course I have no control over other people’s kids or the parents who raise them to be barbarians. Yet manners have to be taught and cultivated.

Something I always thought courteous was to say “excuse me,” if I crossed directly in someone’s path. Recently having done this, a woman actually started making fun of me. “Excuuuse me! Oooweee, aren’t we something? Excuse you, excuse me, hardy har har....” Oh brother. Manners are neither appreciated nor even appearing on some people’s radar.

Then there’s waiting in line. Some people will stand so close that you can discern what brand of cigarettes they smoke. I need a bit more space than that, since I neither want to be so intimate with a stranger nor so uncomfortably attentive to my wallet’s safety. And other line infractions occur, like when someone just cuts in ahead because they assume their one item would go through quicker than your three, and somehow that gives them the right-of-way.

Most of the time, I perceive that these are foreigners. Generational Americans expect one set of manners, but people from other cultures have completely different sets. I know that some cultures have smaller personal space requirements than others, and some cultures have an unwritten code for cutting in line. But that’s not here. So if we want a national manner, an American standard, we have to teach it in Health, Social Studies, or Citizenship.

I also think TV shows thrive on incivility, thereby increasing the problem. There are the sit-coms where characters behave rudely for our amusement (“what idiots! hah, hah”) to these reality shows where ignorant slobs get thrown together in temporary living situations and unleash their full repertoires of shameful behavior. A steady diet of this and what should we expect?

Manners are about courtesy, a moral good, so I’ll work on mine and you work on yours. “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12 ESV). Thank you, Jesus, for that one. Much obliged.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


As I was thinking about this question along the lines of “no problem” versus “you're welcome” being a generational language difference, I happened to ride with a mature shuttle driver who returned my thanks with a cheery, “no problem!”

“I would hope it is no problem, since it is your job,” crosses my mind in response at times — then I feel like an old grump.

Bloggers need fodder, but it seems a stretch to equate these innocuous expressions with bad manners. I think “rude” should be reserved for hurtful etiquette goofs and that “less civilized” describes real badness like starting wars based on lies, destroying the economy by greed, or permitting too many guns in too many trigger-happy hands.

If indeed we are plugged-in to the detriment of live human interactions, let's focus on that. Call me casual, but I'm going to try to hang loose about stuff like language and electronics in the hope that down the road, the younger generation of caregivers and I can better enjoy each other's company.

Roberta Medford


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave what may seem a curious injunction: “Let your communication be, Yea, yea; nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”

Later in the same address, he gave the more familiar admonition, “whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

In both comments, he taught that what we say is important on a spiritual level, as well as in a social context. A careless or brusque comment, as small as it may seem to the speaker, can loom large in the mind of the recipient. Our words can lead to anger and discord. They can cause hurt.

Courteous, polite behavior indicates an attitude of goodwill and a desire for a peaceful, cooperative relationship. Certainly, the stresses of daily life tax patience and often lead to rudeness. Popular culture sometimes celebrates it. Even so, I often see a high level of courtesy in the workplace, on sidewalks and even on busy freeways.

Whether we use the traditional vocabulary of politeness — language does evolve from generation to generation — it is important that we remember that the attitude we convey in our speech affects the happiness of others.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta


It was not a surprise to me that recent polls indicate an increasing number of people believe our culture is becoming less civil. What did surprise me was the attempt to blame this phenomenon on things such as technology, the media, politicians and the younger generations. To me these are just the manifestations of incivility, not its cause. And it is interesting that most of the examples involved actions of other people, not ourselves. So I want to write about the ways I think we can work to change the negative trend by what we do.

In our families, we can encourage our children to express gratitude for the things that others do for them — or just for being alive. We can do that, not just by setting up rules of behavior, but by modeling those attitudes in our own lives.

In interactions with those in the business world and marketplace, we can behave with graciousness. We can acknowledge the teller at the bank with a smile and warm greeting, or the food service worker with a wish that she or he will “have a nice day.” Those actions will create a more positive atmosphere than mumbling about the other person’s lack of manners or cheerfulness.

On the highway, we can drive with caution and deference for others, rather than trying to beat other drivers to the next opportunity. Unsavory hand gestures or epithets are not ways to encourage civility in others.

Even our churches can encourage greater civility. We may not agree about decisions that are being made within the congregation, or the attitudes of those of another faith tradition. Rather than turning those disagreements into acrimonious conflicts, we can try to moderate our language and behavior in order to come to some sort of consensus.

I am sad when I witness incivility, but I believe that we, ourselves, have to take responsibility for making things better. We have a Covenant of Right Relations in our congregation. Although this document will not solve all the problems that arise, it places the responsibility where I think it belongs — with each of us.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta


How we judge manners is complex. While I agree that we perceive fewer signs of respect around us in our day-to-day experience, I choose to look for the best intentions from most people.

There once were fixed rules for how people were expected to behave, based on their social class and status. But now it is hard to define boundaries for people. We should expect that each particular situation influences how people interact and we can not expect fixed rules.

People are balancing between concerns about ethics, morals, social convention and avoiding offense.

Some explanations for perceived rudeness come as we navigate the quirks of human nature, language and social institutions. There can be accidental statements or actions as people engage in struggles for power, status, respect and the desire to accomplish busy work loads.

Some rude behavior occurs because the perpetrator has a perception of provocation. There seems to be a pattern where some repeat perpetrators of rudeness have a hypersensitivity to perceived slights, criticisms, challenges and provocations from others around them. But in general, I believe, most people have a desire to engage in acts of social politeness in encounters at businesses, at school and on the street.

We are in a constant social dance with our friends, neighbors and strangers, and we should be grateful for the respect and politeness that people demonstrate, and do the best we can to project respect and politeness to others.

Steven Gibson
South Pasadena Atheist Meetup

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