September 27, 2009
Is Civility Dead?
Is civility dead ? If not it's surely bruised and badly beaten. I just stared in disbelief at the TV a week or so ago when Kanye West grabbed the mike from Taylor Swift and ruined the 19-year-old's acceptance speech for her first MTV video award, telling the audience that Beyonce was much better and deserved the award instead of Taylor. I don't care if you are red white or blue, in any case , that is just plain rude. Then Serena Williams, she of the fabulous Tennis game, spat venom at one of the judges in language that couldn't be aired on the news. And those are just two of the many examples of public figures that have stuck their foot in their mouth .
What's wrong with people today? Many seem out of control and ready to explode at the least bit of stress. Rudeness rules the day. People speak without thinking about how it could hurt them or others.
In the recent past I've had two incidents happen to me in which I could not overlook the rudeness without responding.
When I first emerged as an artist a mentor suggested that I volunteer at an arts organization so that I could get to know the art community. There I met all sorts of interesting artists and got to view their work as well.
A visitor approached my desk and asked to see the director. When I told the director her name she rushed out to meet her so I surmised she must be one of the important patrons of the arts . " So, ", the director asks, " How was your road trip through the sunny South. Did you take in a lot of culture?"
Visitor flung her head back and uttered : " Ha! Culture ? In the South ? Now that's an oxymoron. " Director cleared her throat. I was expecting her to say something back . Silence.
I could feel the steam slowly escaping from my ears and I held on as long as I could. " Excuse me. What you just said, " I declared. " Am I correct that you believe culture is indigenous to Chicago ? Are you telling me that Harper Lee, author of the Pulitizer prize winning To Kill a Mockingbird, considered one of the greatest books of all time, is not cultured? Truman Capote, Fannie Flag, Winston Groom , Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Edward Osborne Wilson, to name a few, ever hear of them ? And these are just the writers. How about Roger Brown, considered one of the great contemporary Chicago artists? Well he's from the South as well.
She stared, mouth open for a moment. Regaining her composure she said, " Me and my big mouth! I must apologize. There's no excuse for my remark and I didn't intend to insult you or the entire South. It just so happens that I'm in a foul mood because I went speeding through a red light in one of those sleepy little Southern towns and got caught by the Sheriff. After giving me a lecture on the dangers of speeding, he levied a heavy fine."
" Apology accepted, " I replied. " Unlike many these days you've taken responsibility for your words. " I admire that. The director sighed, relieved that we'd come to an amicable conclusion.
Art patron spoke to director and said that we ought to have cultural exchanges with artists between the South and North as a way of getting to know each other better. I thought that was a brilliant idea and the art patron and director agreed to start such a program.
The second incident was with a friend of a friend who , detecting my Southern accent, asked where I came from. When I told her Alabama she asked how long I had been in Chicago and I replied that I left my hometown soon after high school graduation. " Just as well, " she said, rather arrogantly. Making sure I understood her, I politely asked " What do you mean ?"
"Oh, " she says, " the way they talk down there. " " So, ", I replied, " do you think Y'all sounds worse than ' Youse Guys ?" Dead silence .
If I were the judge in the case of these loose lips I'd sentence them to a month of gardening. The first week would deal with weeding, the second week with double digging, third week planting trees and the last week planting bulbs. I think such a sentence would go a long way to reducing the stress of rude people everywhere.
I learned at a very early age that if you lose your good reputation you lose everything and its something that you can seldom regain again.