When did everybody get so rude?

When did everybody get so rude?

And what can we do in veterinary practice, and in the wider world, to bring back some old-fashioned rules of courtesy, civility and respect?
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Mar 05, 2018

This giraffe is rude, having a laugh or just got done licking something. Your choice. (Shutterstock.com)Politeness, courtesy and a good deal of self-restraint appear to be fading from our society. We are living in an increasingly uncivil society.

Here’s an example: I was watching a basketball game on TV the other day when a bench-clearing fight broke out between the involved teams. I thought to myself, “I’ve never seen anything like that!” Well, clearly I don’t watch enough sports, because an easy Google search found frequent brawls in baseball, basketball, football and soccer involving players, spectators, coaches and even officials. I think the last remaining bastion of competition without conflict is likely cricket or chess. And the increasing lack of sportsmanship isn’t restricted to professional athletes but increasingly permeates high school and even children’s sports. Here in Anguilla, where the national sports are bicycle and boat racing, physical squabbles are all but unheard of. If you sit near a heated domino game, you might think all hell is about to break loose, but spirited competitors are generally kept in check by manners, courtesy and civility.

Whatever happened to those attitudes in the United States? When I was a youngster, certain behaviors were expected: Play fair. Don’t call people names. Be tolerant. Don’t make fun of people. In the game of life, accept the fact that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. We might not agree, but we should respect one another.

Incivility is contagious. Uncivil comments and attitudes seem to be repeated and spread more often than kind ones.

We are exposed daily to more and more rude, insulting and aggressive behavior in political campaigns, in the press and on the internet. Incivility is contagious. Uncivil comments and attitudes seem to be repeated and spread more often than kind ones. The result is that mental and physical health suffer, worker attitudes and results deteriorate, and customer satisfaction declines.

How bad is it? In the latest installment of an annual survey on civility surrounding the 2016 election, 70 percent of Americans said they think incivility has reached “crisis levels.”

Who’s to blame?

So, who or what is responsible for the progression of these behaviors? First, it’s important to recognize that acrimony is not new in our country. Blame politicians if you like. Blame the press. Blame social media. Blame changes in family structure and dynamics. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

The truth is, when intolerance, rudeness and incivility are espoused by all of our public figures—political leaders, celebrities and athletes—it lends tacit endorsement to a shameful behavior, and the behavior is copied. Every day, it’s something else. A social uproar. A political conflict. Online bullying. An insult here, a personal attack there.

Undoubtedly, the 2016 presidential campaign played a major part. Regardless your personal politics, the campaign was uncivil and the divisiveness was obvious. We’re a divided country. With all the incivility in the world, it’s interesting that the one place that could be a bastion of civility is, strangely enough, one’s workplace. Is yours? If not, who’s to blame?

Are you responsible?

Employees tend to emulate their leader, and civility starts at the top. Leaders are responsible for the environment they create and perpetuate. If incivility is allowed in your practice, look to your leadership or lack of leadership as the root problem. You can’t support civil behavior and be a jerk.

In an article in Psychology Today, psychologist Thomas Plante suggests that reversing the incivility trend may be simple but won’t be easy. It begins with a few basic steps for each and every one of us:

1. Simply think before you speak.

2. Focus on facts, rather than opinions presented as facts. Focus on the common good, rather than your individual agenda.

3. Disagree respectfully. Not all ideas and perspectives make sense, but all deserve to be aired. We don’t and cannot always agree, but we must respect others. Don’t talk over or drown out other perspectives.

4. Cut out the insults. Don’t support disrespectful or insulting speech. Name-calling and personal insults shouldn’t be permitted. Interact with respect and compassion, and don’t encourage or support uncivil behavior.

Intolerance is a cultural illness, a serious social disease, and, left on its own, it will only get worse. Now’s the time to start making a difference, one personal comment at a time.

Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.


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