There is an alarming trend in our country that, if not reversed, is doing more harm to the social fabric than anything that has come along in the past 200 years. I’m referring to increasing violence and aggressive behavior on the part of more and more of our citizens. This is much deeper than what we see on the surface that is reported as murder, rape, aggravated assault, road rage, domestic battery and other crimes that show up as headlines in our nation’s newspapers.
What is even more disturbing for me is the obnoxious and rude behavior, and the complete lack of good manners and civility that far too many of our citizens are exhibiting on a regular basis.
Just recently there was an article in our local newspaper where a school district in our state had adopted a policy to curb bullying. This school district defined bullying as "... any pattern of behavior by a student, or a group of students, that is intended to harass, intimidate, ridicule, humiliate or instill fear in another student or group of students." This is simply the end result of what is happening in our culture.
It’s not against the law to be rude, discourteous and uncivil, and until this type of behavior crosses the line, nothing is done about it. The sad thing is that the parents or guardians of these bullies don’t have a clue as to why we have serious problems in this area.
It’s not just the bullies that are affecting the quality of life in our country. The bullies are those who are at the end of the spectrum, but what is more alarming is the “normal” kids, and also the kids who grew up to become adults, who lack any social graces whatsoever. Whose fault is it? My prayer is that you will think about this for a while.
I have a friend, George Sample, up in Corry, Pa., who is also deeply concerned about this problem and is trying to do something about it. He is publisher of the Corry Journal and has been a newspaper publisher for over 50 years. He and his sons own a group of newspapers in Pennsylvania, Maine and New Jersey.
When his wife, Janet, passed away a few years ago, George made the decision to memorialize her in a very special way. Jan, as she was called, was the epitome of grace and civility, and treated everyone she ever met with respect. This lady was a model of graciousness throughout her life and this became the motivation for George Sample to give a large endowment to fund the Janet Neff Sample Center for Manners & Civility at the Penn State University campus in Erie. George and six of his eight children are Penn State alumni and he has been a strong financial supporter over the years.
With regard to manners, George Sample said that, "Manners become part of your character. If you’re not a gracious person, you’re going to stumble and fall on your way up the ladder of life. It’s just that important."
The director of the center is Cathy Sargent Mester, and she told me that a number of other colleges and universities are beginning to teach courses on manners and civility including Colorado State University, Princeton University, UC-Santa Barbara, Evergreen State University and a number of others. Nothing would please my friend George Sample more than for every college and university in America to teach courses in manners and civility.
One of the ways to get this message across to students is a little blue sticker that is used in courses that are taught at the center. In the very middle of the sticker are the words, "Be Nice To Each Other," and then around the circle are the words, "Be Just, Be Gentle, Be Slow To Anger, Be Kind & Have Self-Control."
The originator of these stickers is Mr. Robert Alexander, a retired marketing executive who lives in the Erie area. Much larger and more artistic posters with the same message now hang in every elementary and secondary school in the county and smaller posters in every individual classroom. In reality, the only thing that separates our society today from the barbaric past is when human beings are nice to each other.
Let’s get back to teaching good manners and civility as a way of life. I know a lot of wonderful people, young and old, who exhibit these qualities and you may rest assured that someone took the time to teach them.
The people of America really have a choice to make. We can continue the downward spiral and become more barbaric or we can insist on good manners and being civil to each other.
Do you care? Can you make a difference?
(Editor’s Note: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. He may be contacted at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)