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Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.
– John Locke  
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 8 August 2019  

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Front Page   |   Feature Stories   |   Search This Issue   |   Log In
  The demise of social graces
  By Lindsey Harrison

   A survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, conducted between March 17-21 and posted on their website on April 15, 2016, states that 74 percent of Americans think people’s behavior and manners nationwide have deteriorated over the past 20 to 30 years. The same study states that people generally agree about what is considered unacceptable behavior.
   According to an article posted on PsychCentral’s website on Oct. 8, 2018, written by Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., a licensed psychologist and marriage and family counselor, “As we teach our kids the words and rituals, the manners of our culture, we are laying down the foundation for genuine empathy later on.”
   Empathy requires a person to be able to “walk in another’s shoes” and treat people in a kind manner because there is a genuine understanding of other people’s feelings, the article states.
   According to an article posted on the Wiley Online Library’s website and published on Feb. 22, 2016, written by Omri Gillath and Lucas A. Keefer, there is a correlation between the way people view objects and the way people view relationships. If objects are disposable, which they increasingly are in today’s society, relationships are likewise disposable.
   Daniel Buccino, director of the Johns Hopkins Civility Initiative, said a “disposable” attitude flies in the face of everything the Civility Initiative represents. Its intent is to teach people relational competence, the ability to relate to others and how to successfully navigate social interactions.
   “We work for civility when we are smart enough to imagine its rewards,” he said. “The challenge is that we need to stay civil, not because others are but because we are.” In essence, treat others how you want to be treated, he said.
   The Civility Initiative was founded by his late colleague, Pier Massimo “P.M.” Forni, a professor in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. In 1997, Forni realized he wanted to help people develop relational competence, civility and social graces, Buccino said.
   He and Forni gave lectures and spoke to various businesses and schools about how to be more civil; Buccino said some people and organizations have seen a positive impact from the lectures. People have found that businesses that put a premium on customer service can distinguish themselves in the marketplace, he said.
   “Civility is really very important, and there are real public health implications associated with that,” he said. “The quality of our relationships affects the quality of our health. That may seem like pretty old-fashioned stuff, but developing social competence and rapport is good for you and it is good for business.”
   Amber Costa, owner of Costa Seamless Gutter Services Inc. in Falcon, agreed and said civility and customer service are crucial to the success of their business. However, she said she has noticed that the high level of customer service people used to expect no longer exists. Not only that, but customers seem to have forgotten how to be courteous, too, Costa said.
   “A lot of times, a customer is too harsh and they forget the person on the other line is a person as well,” she said.
   Since offering high quality customer service is part of the fabric of Costa’s company, she said it hurts her business when people use anonymity to give the company a poor rating online for something petty, or out of spite, or for turning down a job.
   “Not every customer and company are a good match for each other; and, if that is the case, I want to make sure to let the customer know that as soon as possible and help them find a better fit,” she said. “We have a great relationship with two other gutter companies in town because we turn down some of the more gnarly jobs. That kind of customer service used to be normal — and now it is a surprise.”
   Buccino said he thinks the younger generations might not be learning the proper social graces and manners because parents are no longer gathering around the dinner table to eat together and impart those lessons to their kids. “It is possible that if families are not having dinner together as much, with people working multiple jobs and families dispersed around the country, it may be harder to teach those lessons,” he said. “It is not impossible, and there are still people who do that.”
   Buccino said he also attributes much of the decline in courteous behavior to people spending less time in face-to-face interactions.
   “Anonymity is one of the key drivers of incivility,” he said. “That, and stress. As more and more of our lives are lived online — texting, using Twitter — we forget that we are dealing with other human beings that might bruise as easily as we do.”
   The ability to put something out there on the internet that a person might not say to someone in person can quickly escalate things, Buccino said. Often, that behavior manifests itself through social media, he said.
   “One of the things we are continuing to learn about social media is that we do not even know what is real anymore,” Buccino said. “Lots of online platforms put things that are the most controversial and full of contention and argument to the surface. We are in some ways being manipulated to respond to the most provocative things in the most provocative ways.”
   Buccino said civility might be a rarity in our society, but change has to be inward before pointing the finger at someone else.
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