Orthodox America

  CAUSES of Today's Incivility

By Patricia Crowley

"Crude, rude and obnoxious behavior has replaced good manners and it hurts our politics and culture." Recently, U.S. News & World Report came out with an article on "The American Uncivil Wars" that confronts the amazingly rude state of affairs in which young Americans are in today. Incivility is indeed one of the greatest problems that America is faced with. Statistics show that 89% of Americans think incivility is a serious problem and that 78% of Americans think incivility has worsened in the past ten years. [1] Rudeness, definitely develops in childhood.

      Ironically, definition presents a first obstacle to solving the problem. The word "civility" is derived from the Latin civis, or "citizen," and is also foreshadowed in the word civitas, or the art of government. It can mean, among other things, good breeding, politeness, consideration or courtesy, but may also refer to a "polite act of utterance". [2]

      One of the most immediate causes for this problem is television. The television has taken over the home. The children think that whatever they see on TV is true and that how everyone on TV acts is the way they are supposed to act. They also think that if they want to be tough like the boy they just saw on TV that they have to act like he does, which is without manners. The girls think if they want to be popular and beautiful they have to dress and act just as rudely as the girl they just saw on the sitcom they were watching. As John Leo puts it, "The F word may be the only nasty term left unheard in TV dramas, but that sails out to audiences now and then during post-football interviews and in music award shows [3] Talk to Americans and a picture emerges of a nation addicted to the pleasures of an unruly society -- its emphasis on individual expression, its flouting of convention and its free vent of emotions -- but shocked at the effects of this unruliness and increasingly willing to take action against it. [4]

      Another possibly more remote cause for this behavior is the want for attention. Because some kids do not get as much attention as they like, they put on a show of rudeness and toughness. They use rudeness as a way of getting people to look their way. Most children know that if you want attention all you have to do is make some noise, say a few swears, and act like a jerk, and somebody is at least going to get mad at you. But, unfortunately, the children never seem to be corrected for swearing. One reason for this could be that 76% of Americans think adults' willingness to keep their children under control has weakened in the past decade. [5] /.../

      Another very obvious source for this rudeness and lack of respect is rock music. Statistics show that 67% of Americans agree that rock music is to blame for incivility. [6] Most rock music implies swear words as well as ride behavior. Not only when you listen to a rock group's CD do you hear these things, but also when you watch their music videos or go to their concerts you see quite easily the rudeness they display on stage. Their unnecessary behavior has been the cause of many children's rudeness. The music itself is so loud and jarring that it creates a feeling inside you that is definitely not "polite."

      A hidden reason for rude behavior is that many children are angry. Quite a few of these children do not even know what they are angry about. They are mostly just angry at life, because it seems to catch up with them around every corner. Being angry like this can cause problems. Martin Marty, a philosopher of religions who has written on the subject, states that "The first alternative to civility is first incivility, and then war.'' [7] And, in fact, statistics say that 91% of the American people think that decline of civility contributes to violence, 85% think that decline of civility contributes to eroding values [8] Unfortunately, this rude behavior is a relatively new thing. In fact, 67% of Americans say others have become more likely to use rude language in the past decade. [9]

      By the time these children grow up their behavior is extremely rude. If something in our society doesn't change soon, then fancy dinner parties will end up in food fights, and you won't be able to go out to dinner without the waiter throwing a cream pie in your face. And, after all this talk on how manners have gotten worse, 99% of Americans say their own behavior is civil. [10] I wonder who it is that is so rude.


1 John Marks, "The American Uncivil Wars" in U.S. News & World Report, 22 April 1996:68. 

2. Ibid. 

3. John Leo "Foul Words, Foul Culture" in US. News & World Report, 22 April 1996:73.

4. Marks, loc. cit. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Marks 71 

7. Marks 68.

8. Ibid. 

9. Marks 70.

10. Marks 72.


Homeschooled until this year, Patricia is currently a sophomore at South Portland High. This article was written for an English writing class she took last year at the University of Southern Maine. She sings m the choir of Holy Nativity Orthodox Mission parish in South Portland, Maine, where her father is the pastor.


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