By Arthur H. Gunther III
Civility is what it is these days, which generally means watered-down manners, some to the point of not being recognizable social behavior. It’s as if no one taught some clowns how to act toward others.
In my parts, north of New York City in the burbs, some public meetings become shouting matches and physical altercations as if town hall were the place for a street rumble. And there is always the incivility of the street, with impatient drivers, including myself.
But the lack of manners most distressing is in communication, or the absence of it. Too many people, “important” ones, too, fail to answer letters and e-mails, even when they solicit same. I have written or emailed (on required forms) to the president, to Ford Motors headquarters, to Ford engineers, to Dunkin’ Donuts and to others. All these business and people pay big bucks to solicit your opinion and some have flashy websites announcing just how “valuable” your view is. Yet write a constructive, balanced criticism with helpful suggestions, and you not only do not get a form-letter reply when you should receive at least a considered individual response, but you don’t get a reply at all. None of my letters or emails in the past few years have been acknowledged. That is bad manners, and it is not civil.
If people do not listen to others, there is no communication, and that is sloppy for society. The individual writer may have a harebrained idea, but if he or she presents it in a non-shouting, well-considered, non-offensive way, it should get a reply.
Adding to this social incivility are some tradesmen. I recently considered installing a gas fireplace insert to my home and requested quotes from three businesses, all local. Two never replied, though they run ads shouting for business. One firm sent a fellow who never got back to me, despite several calls to his office.
The bottom line is that my project is probably too small for their effort — the companies could use their staff on bigger jobs, with more profit. Not civil behavior. Bad business, too, as I won’t speak well of these outfits.
When some of us went to school, we were taught how to write personal and business letters. We also penned replies. The point was not only to learn how to compose such missives but to reinforce the standard that in a civil society, communication — the back and forth of it — is necessary and expected.
Not today, it would seem.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any or all of this essay may be reproduced at will if credit is given.