Whatever happened to civility and propriety on these shores? Has it gone overboard, underground or was it never there in the first instance? Perhaps, civility was one of these myths that those of us from former colonies got brainwashed over! In the public domain I rarely come across kindness and courtesy, so much so, that when I meet people who demonstrate overwhelming kindness and cvility, I would often respond in two ways. I would either be profusely thankful to the extent of embarrassing friends, family or myself. Or I would just stare dumbfounded, coming across as some unmannerly ingrate with no sense of grace or on who has lost his tongue.
I use public transport almost every day. And as one who is not fixated on an electronic gadget during such travels, I prefer to look around, observe and greet people either with a smile, a greeting or a simple nod of acknowledgement. I still greet the bus drivers (on my route) who will mostly not return the greeting. Perhaps they too are surprised by my greeting. And needless to say, greeting fellow passengers or even contemplating a conversation will prove to be a massive challenge. Besides being locked into our own world of electronic gadget – almost everyone seems to be lost in some dreamlike state.
There is no doubt in my mind that the multiplicity of technological gadgets is contributing ‘big time’ to our inability to empathise with and for others. Many of us are helpless, inadequate, and much more, just trying to respond to the break down all around us. What have we turned into? I think Einstein was spot on: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
One of the most irritating sights for me (I need to learn how to be kinder and more gracious. I am not there as yet) is to see healthy-looking, young and visibly abled-body passengers (mainly men) plunking their backsides, with the usual man-spread, on seats clearly signed for pregnant women, wheel chair users, the elderly and those unable to stand. Mind you, often the signs above the seat can be clearly read as permission for anyone to sit until needed by the designated vulnerable person. I suppose that will work where we are all more aware, kind and courteous!
Now, I have no problem with such signage: except that when you have mindless and discourteous occupiers fastened to these seats and in their own world and who will by and large never step aside to offer the seats to those for whom they are designated. Trying to alert them or hint to them about the need to arise, one runs the risk of getting a proper ‘I will kill you look’. On average (from my experience), women are the ones who tend to be more aware and willing to give up their seats.
Let me say that the crisis I am pointing to is more than about public transport. There are countless displays of rudeness, unprofessional behaviour, disrespect and anger in almost every corner and at all levels of our life together. We are imploding, and to name civility as a matter on urgent concern, one runs the risk of being accused of taking some high-moral ground! Yes, I see a crisis – but perhaps you my readers may not see this as an issue that is worth ‘spilling ink’ over.
How do we respond to this crisis in our public life together? Is there a way to bring back civility at the heart of our democratic life together? Perhaps, my plea is a lost cause as I suspect there will be an outcry as to who determines what is civil and appropriate behaviour. In the meantime, I would try my small and limited bit towards a society for which mutual respect, politics with integrity, courtesy, considerate manners and interest of others continue to be key signs of a community with heart!
© Jagessar September 13, 2016