I have a friend who still likes to attend high-school football games even though his children are grown. A few weeks ago, he and his son attended one where a series of incidents happened.
First, while he and his son were waiting in line, his son was vulgarly propositioned by another young man. Second, while my friend was returning to the game from a restroom, a young man of another race deliberately jabbed him with his elbow; my friend still felt discomfort five days later, although he had decided not to see a doctor. Very shortly thereafter, my friend noticed a group of four guys talking threateningly to a pair of guys of a different race. My friend locked eyes with the ringleader of the gang of four for several seconds; thankfully, he and his cronies walked away. Finally, after the game, a fight broke out between some fans, although as far as we know, law enforcement was not called in.
As I thought about my friend’s experience, first of all, I strongly affirmed him in his averting a potential fight–unevenly matched, at that–between the two groups of guys. Second, I remembered almost exactly ten years ago my experience at a football game at the same high school. My wife, daughter, and I were hosting three Japanese high-school exchange students for a few days, and we decided to take them to a football game as an American cultural experience. In sharp contrast to my friend’s experience a few weeks ago, nothing even close to that happened to us; it was an enjoyable experience for the girls. However, I would not dream of taking a similar group now.
I have also been wondering whether my friend’s experience can be seen as a reflection of American society as a whole. Because of the racial component, I thought of the 2020 BLM riots, especially in regard to the refusal of so many District Attorneys to prosecute rioters. I also noticed that after several years of decline in violent crime in the U.S. as a whole, the rate went up sharply, by 20%, from 2019 to 2020. I wondered if the Critical Race Theory that has been poisoning some of our schools was also a culprit.
While all of these things may have contributed to my friend’s experience, I think that there is something else that may explain it better: the rise in incivility. Ray Williams defines incivility this way: “Incivility is rude or unsociable speech or behavior. Incivility is a general term for social behavior lacking in civility or good manners, on a scale from rudeness or lack of respect for elders, to vandalism and hooliganism, through public drunkenness and threatening behavior.” This definition seems to encapsulate rather well what my friend and his son experienced. On the other hand, quantifying incivility is not so easy since it often does not, for example, result in arrests. Therefore, we must rely on perceptions of people, but thankfully, we have researchers who have looked into this. Here are a few stats that I find interesting:
- 95% of Americans surveyed believe we have a civility problem in the U.S.
- 81% believe uncivil behavior is leading to an increase in violence.
- 71% believe civility is worse than a few years ago.
- 70% believe that incivility has risen to crisis levels.
- 70% believe that the Internet encourages uncivil behavior.
If you’re interested, you can check out this article by Ray Williams: https://raywilliams.ca/the-rise-of-incivility-in-america/. Much of it is related to the workplace, but it certainly applies outside the workplace as well. I might add that I agree with four of the above perceptions about incivility; I don’t agree with the fourth one, although we may very well get there. Regarding the last one, I’m surprised that only 70% of respondents believe that the Internet encourages uncivil behavior!
For those of us who are Christians, we should certainly be leading the way in civility. One verse that applies here is Philippians 2:3, which says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” I Peter 3:15 also applies: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We obviously can’t avoid encounters that result in discomfort of one kind or another, and we won’t always agree with each other or with those outside the faith, but by God’s grace, we can treat others with gentleness and respect.