Rebuilding Interdependence, Civility and Community
What can we do, as a society, to reduce the levels of incivility and narcissism that appear to be on the rise? Stephen Carter7 puts it simply and eloquently when he writes, “Teaching civility, by word and example, is an obligation of the family.”
He adds, “. . . children need to see evidence that adults can disagree and yet respect and even love each other . . . teaching civility to the next generation also requires the establishment of clear rules of respect and simple good manners in the household.”7
Carter recognizes that children are exposed to many malign influences outside the home, which parents must strive to counteract. In this regard, I believe our schools must play a more prominent role in the inculcation of communal and interpersonal values.
Over the past decade or so, a consortium of educators has outlined a program known as SEL, or “social and emotional learning.” As described by Greenberg and colleagues,11 “SEL programming builds children’s skills to recognize and manage their emotions; appreciate the perspectives of others; establish positive goals; make responsible decisions; and handle interpersonal situations effectively.”
The broader goal of SEL is to teach students ”…to interact in socially skilled and respectful ways; to practice positive, safe, and healthy behaviors; [and] to contribute ethically and responsibly to their peer group, family, school, and community.”11
SEL makes sense to me. But in order to change the trajectory of our young people’s character development, we will need a concerted effort in which parents and teachers collaborate—a tall order for many schools struggling simply to maintain safety and order. Still, we need to start somewhere, if we are to create a culture in which mutual respect and civility are widely and deeply held values.12
Coda, November 16, 2015
I write this in the aftermath of the barbaric terrorist attacks in Paris—a city which, in so many ways, represents civility and the highest achievements of civilization. These cowardly assaults are an example of incivility and self-righteousness carried to its most malignant extreme. Today, darkness may enshroud the City of Light; but if we face this evil with strength and resolve, in solidarity with the French people, the illumination of reason may yet prevail.
Dr Pies is Professor in the psychiatry departments of SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York, and Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston. He is Editor in Chief Emeritus of Psychiatric Times.