Observations From Isolation: Ch.7 – The Demise Of Civility (As It Were… And Still Is…)
(Originally written in August, 2017, but still pertinent today…)
For the past ten months or so, as befits a hobo journalist with relatively new paternal responsibilities, I’ve been moonlighting at the servo in town. Slingin’ petty, as the local grommets call it. It is, for the most part, a good little gig that affords me both the flexibility to continue plying my literary trade, all while allowing me to provide a bit extra for my fledgling family; a good balance at this point in my life, I feel.
With this newfound outlet though, has come a startling realisation. For these months past, as I’ve slung petty to countless people both during the day and through the night, I have come to realise that the demise of civility is upon us. A dark day is dawning, one where people care little for others and where good manners are naught but mere refuse, cast from the windows of speeding cars, left to fester in roadside ditches along with other antiquated and little-used notions like respect for one’s elders, chivalry and downright common sense.
In this day and age, it seems, people are far too wrapped up in their own lives to spare a thought for anyone else. Even the simple task of greeting someone is beyond some people, the thought of a ‘thank you’ come the end of the transaction now little more than a flight of fancy. I have lost count of the number of times someone has come in to pay for their fuel, and hasn’t even acknowledged that I exist, not even a look.
I was brought up to be polite, so perhaps that’s why this lack of common decency sticks in my craw. And I too, over the course of my adult life, have been wrapped up in whatever it was I was doing, and so have spared little thought for other people at times, of that I am surely guilty. But I have never thrown anything at anyone, I have never unleashed a torrent of abuse at someone, I have never told anyone they were worthless. All of this has happened to me in the past ten months, and it fair makes me wonder what the world is coming to.
Eighteenth century English writer Mary Wortley Montagu said that “civility costs nothing, but buys everything” – it seems, in an age where instant gratification is king, where a sense of entitlement, as bold as day, has settled over the landscape, that not many are aware of how cheap civility is, and how far it truly goes. Granted, giving me a smile and a cheery greeting won’t pay for your fuel, but I can guarantee it’ll get a smile in return, a bit of pithy banter and a good feeling buzzing about in your stomach. It’s basic human interaction, but I can tell you it’s beyond a vast majority of people I come across.
So why is this? When did civility begin its demise? Has it been this way for a while, but because I’ve not been privy to it on a daily basis, I haven’t realised? Perhaps people have become so used to online interaction that a face-to-face exchange has so become alien and strange, the muscles in people’s faces slack and flabby from underuse and so unable to form a simple smile. Good lord, it paints a grim picture of the future, make no mistake.
All I can do then I suppose, is try my best to ignore what I find abhorrent (along with practising my ducking and weaving). All I can do is stick to the ideals on which I was raised, and try my best to pass them on to my own daughter. All I can do is get on with my own life, paying proper respect to others along the way, all the while hoping, just hoping, that perhaps people will return the favour, and we can do our little bit to help restore the civility this world so keenly needs.