Can civility thrive in the midst of chaos?

June 26, 2018

“The idea of America is in constant conflict with the reality of America.” – D.L. Hughley

Civility was trending on Twitter Monday night. After clicking through the hashtag, I was inspired to write the following tweet:

Civility is one of the core principles of sportsmanship – right along with integrity, respect and fair play. Civility, or the lack thereof, has become political fodder for reasons I won’t get into on this page. Google it if you have the time (or patience). Truth be told, civility has been lacking in America for about 242 years give or take. We romanticize about days gone by when people were nicer to each other while leaving out chattel slavery, the Trail of Tears, the Tuskegee Experiment, Japanese internment camps, the 3/5 Compromise, Black Codes, Jim Crow, Redlining, the Vietnam War and dozens of other examples when Americans could have been nicer and more polite to others.

In sports, we pine for the days when football players used to hand the ball to the referee after scoring a touchdown instead of doing all kinds of wild dances and routines. Yet, the only person we can ever think of doing that consistently is Barry Sanders. On the other hand, Terrell Owens’ antics are legendary and were shown over and over again on highlight shows. Rob Gronkowski spikes the ball so hard, one may eventually explode. And that’s what we do in the larger society. It’s not enough to win. We have to spike the football. We have to rub the other guy or girl’s face in it and they have to be nice about it. They have to accept it. They have to be good sports about it.

That’s not how sportsmanship nor civility works. How you treat others should be divorced of contest outcomes. Treat people like human beings regardless of what the scoreboard reads. How did we get here, though? Apathy is how. Too many people don’t care and/or gave up and left the extremists in place. America has 230 million eligible voters. In 2016, 100 million people did not exercise the franchise. But what does that have to do with anything?

I challenge you to do nothing to 40% of your house for the next four years. I mean nothing. Don’t clean or clutter it. Don’t even go in it. Go back in after four years and see what that section of your house looks like. Inhale what it smells like. There’s a good chance whatever’s taken root in the neglected section of the place has spread elsewhere. 

Sports has been taken over by extremist elements as well. Parents who released their kids to the game and told them to be home by the time the streetlights come on have been replaced by ex-service members who punch kids. There are more adults making a living in youth sports than ever, but 70% of kids quit sports by age 13. These trends have to change.

Civility has two meanings. The first, which is mostly discussed here, focuses on being polite and courteous to others. The second definition refers to the civic duties of a citizen. Greater civility means being nicer and being more engaged. More people need to vote, coach youth teams, attend community meetings, and generally care what happens to others. Civility is not a weapon you swing at people when you want them to heel. It’s a tool used to help build others up.

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