Nastiness. The word itself sounds, well, nasty. It is just one of those words, actions and predicaments that one should avoid. Yet we don't. More and more individuals say and do the meanest things. We see it on social media and reality television. We hear it from our leaders and our family and friends.
This past Sunday's The New York Times had an interesting article called, "The Culture of Nastiness". It looked at our current times and how we are so uncivil towards each other. What caught my eye was a quote by a professor from our town's university. The professor teaches a class, "Mister Rogers 101: Why Civility and Community Still Matter". His premise is that we are a lonely society. We do not engage with one another as we used to and as we should. Consequently we do not have experience working through conflicts with people with whom we must figure out a way to get along.
"Civility is the idea that you're not always going to agree but you still have to make it work... People think, 'If I disagree with you, then I have to dislike you, so why should I go to a neighborhood meeting when it's clear I'm going to disagree with them?'"
How can we stop this societal trajectory towards nastiness? It doesn't take a social scientist to recognize that nothing good will come out of this current course we are on. We see it with the uptick of bullying, harassment, and hate speech. We see it in the ills caused by isolation- anxiety, stress, addictions.
Start with community. Or at least recognizing how much we lack community in our lives. For most adults, the only community tends to be one's work place. That is not to say it is a bad thing but what about the time spent away from work? Or if one is let go from one's job? Where is the community and support? Do we have any interaction with others? How can we cultivate those relationships?
Limit social media. People are so free with comments about others when it is offered under anonymity. If one had to look someone in the eye and say those things, conversations would be quite different. Plus the information given through Facebook and other outlets are the "reel highlights" of someone's life. It is as if we receive the annoying "everything is perfect in our life even our dog" Christmas letter on a daily basis. It totally distorts reality and authentic living.
Monitor the types of images one watches. When all we see are the intense interactions and abusive discussions from reality television or even news programs we subconsciously start to think that way towards others which leads to practicing conversations like that. If we do watch these images we need to keep a reality check in mind- what is a better way to encourage employees to improve performance; is it really necessary to use curse words to speak to a family member; in light of real problems in the world, is the "drama" of a celebs broken relationship necessary?
By balancing the words and images that we receive with conversations and experiences of real people we can combat nastiness. We might not like everyone we encounter but we begin to have some type of understanding of why people think the way they do. We glean a perspective of what is a true crisis and authentic compassion.
The end of the article was quite poignant in that it asks each of us to examine ourselves in our contributions to nastiness. Changing this atmosphere requires more than pointing fingers at "those" people; each one of us needs to honestly admit our role, complacent or active in contributing towards uncivil behavior and then strive for ways to change.
What about you? Do you find yourself hiding behind social media in your opinions? Do you know your neighbors and those in your community? Have you ever been inspired by a reality show to act in the same manner? How did that go?
The word that I like instead is comity. It generally refers to judicial and legal terms. Originally it was a word derived from Latin comitas, meaning "courteousness" (and probably related to the Sanskrit word for "he smiles").
It means courteous behavior; politeness; civility.
How much better is that?