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.


  1. You were taught well, Carolyn ... tried and true voices ring clear ... and important message well said. God bless our grandchildren! (BTW ... I have another on way ... #3) And oh yes, planting bulbs ... an ugly job until spring shows its lovely face. Happy Autumn!

  2. Thanks, Joey. So happy to hear you have another grandchild on the way.

    Happy Autumn to you as well. I have planting bulbs to look forward to :-)

  3. I live in the south and really enjoy it. The southern accents are no different than other regional accents. Folks from Chicago have one, Boston, New York. The thing is they don't realize they have a distinct accent too. Everyone does and there is nothing wrong with it. Unfortunately there is a misconception that southern accents mean "not as smart." People should accent each other as they are and not hold on to stereotypes.

    As for your sentence I enjoy those things so I might just have to get rude! ;)

  4. You have an open mind, Dave and you're absolutely right that some folks think you're dumb when you have a Southern accent. I had a difficult time getting a job when I first came to Chicago because of my accent and the fact that I was young and single.

    For those of us who love gardening the sentence wouldn't be a punishment but a pleasure :-) I'm speaking of those lazy, rude people who don't have a filter between their brain and mouth.

  5. Great points. I have been attacked online before and my response is, "would you say that to my face?" People often say whatever they want online because it's less personal. Well that doesn't aply when you are on the receiving end. It's very personal and I won't tolerate rudeness.

    I am glad that you are forward enough to point out peoples foul attitudes.

  6. I found your post very good food for thought, Carolyn. I like how you are able to ask the right questions, in a respectful way, to shed light on the ignorance you are confronted with! I'm afraid I don't always 'think on the spot' and it's only 'after the fact' that I can come up with the great lines and thoughts that you were able to come up with!

  7. Carolyn Gail, I think every one of us can relate to this and provide our own examples of experiences with rudeness. I wish I could remember a quote I read once in a column by Miss Manners, but it had to do with the importance of good manners--something like without manners, we are no longer a civilized people. I admire my daughter-in-law for instilling good manners in my grandchildren, who always say thank you, please, and excuse me.

    And just to add to your list--two of my favorite short story writers, Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor.

    Congratulations, too, on your Blotanical nomination!

  8. Hey Flower Girl,
    Long time no see. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your pithy comments.

    As we say down South " you gotta stand for something or you'll fall for anything. "

  9. Thanks, Jan. I know what you're talking about because that used to be me. I guess I've gotten bolder with age.

  10. Having grandchildren that say please, thank you and excuse me, WELL , I just can't for the life of me think of anything better. You are so blessed.

    Oh yes, indeed, Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor are indeed great writers.

    Thanks for your congrats on the nomination. No one was more surprised than me.

  11. Sometimes people down here prejudge me by my Midwestern accent - not so much disliking it, but assuming they know ahead of time how I'll think about certain subjects. Many times they are wrong. Like Jan, I only think of good answers many hours later, Carolyn!

    See you have the Thomas Hart Benton painting 'Spring Plowing' at the top- did you use it as Southern nostalgia or is there a deeper meaning? (If there's a pun...don't want to miss it!)

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  12. Hey Annie-long time no hear from you. I know what you mean about that Midwestern accent in the South. When I was in high school we had a girl from Up North move into town and we teased her mercilessly for a year before we accepted her.

    No pun intended but I can see where you thought there might be one :-) That painting reminds me of my father when he plowed the fields.

  13. It does happen that more and more people shoot off their mouths without thinking and that more and more are in very foul mood and say whatever comes into their heads. It seems to have become part of our time. I'm proud of you for knowing what to say in the situation. I often don't know what to say I'm so shocked and think of the perfect thing later on.

  14. Thank you, thank you!!! For standing up and asking the people why they were so rude. I just don't understand people sometimes. As you know, I'm an Okie, and we certainly get our fair share of prejudgment. Odd, huh?~~Dee


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