Is Civility Dead?
By Tracy Hunter
As American society has sought to discover different characteristics which
uniquely define each new generation, they have overlooked the changing face of
civility. I remember walking into my Language Arts class my first day as a sixth
grade student. “You will address me with ‘Yes Ma’am, No Ma’am,’ ‘Yes Mrs.
Gary, No Mrs. Gary,’ or ‘Yes Mrs. G., No Mrs. G.’,” said my new teacher.
I must have looked at this woman as if she had lost her mind. Who was she to
tell me that I had to address her in that manner? I didn’t even extend that
type of communication to my own parents. That didn’t mean that I disrespected
them, I was just never required to address them in that way. Now, if we talk
about the way in which my parents addressed their parents, then we would have a
I do indeed believe that civility begins in the home, and as parents begin to
extend more freedom in that area, it is the American society as a whole that
suffers. When one speaks of the “Golden 50s,” when civility was supposed to
be at a peak, parents were not afraid to do things such as discipline their
children. Communities were free to discipline the neighborhood children as they
pleased. My grandmother often tells me how it wasn’t uncommon for you to be
spanked three of four times before you got the real “whuppin” from daddy!
Children were full of respect, manners, and discipline.
I feel however that this is only one reason why the face of civility has been
altered. American society itself has changed. I heard it best described this
way: “American society was once considered to be a melting pot, now it’s
more like a tossed salad. People continue to get into the mix, but everyone
wants to maintain his/her own customs and beliefs.” Ultimately, America is not
what it was fifty years ago and obviously, neither is the nature of civility.
Different controversial groups are deciding to more freely express themselves
and the majority of Americans continue to vow for their right to do so. In
Essence, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. As we slowly accept the nature
of the differences in all American people, we also began to accept the decrease
Not only that, but when we look at the nature of civility in public service,
that too is something that is the fault of the people ourselves. With this, I
mean that as we continue to accept mediocre service, it will continue to be
extended to us. How often have we been disrespected or treated with a lack of
civility somewhere, yet later returned to support that establishment? We have
accepted the lack of civility for so long that it seems almost to late to do
anything about it. So if indeed civility is not dead, it is surely on life
© 2001 Howard University.
(First Published in limited print edition, An Anthology of Verse and Prose, by the Composition for Honours Class, Howard University, Spring 2001. Professor E.R. Braithwaite)
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