Baby boomers, if you do a search on Amazon.com, you can find books about civility — but as Americans, do we know what that term truly means? In our world of bombastic media, constant Social Media, and — political discord, perhaps we have lost what used to be a fabric uniting Americans.
Many baby boomers can recall their parents and grandparents teaching them manners. While growing up, they witnessed their grandfather being nice to the corner grocer. Many born between 1945 to 1965 can recall going to the bank with their father on a Saturday morning; watching as he interacted so pleasantly with bank employees.
Thus, a boomer might recall when their parents used to have friends over on a Saturday night, that they would just sit around the dining room table, eating and laughing. Somehow, the pathos of the past has given way to a sheltered, individualistic mentality.
Most baby boomers do not ascribe to the notion that everything back then was better than it is now. However, there does seem to be something from our past that is missing now. It may not be intentional, but there does seem to be a general lack of civility in our everyday lives. This observation, of course, is anecdotal. However, Pew research seems to be heading in the direction of validating this theory.
Even the casual observer can see we are living in a polarized America.
In the past, people did not necessarily agree with each other more often — they just were typically just a bit more flexible in their thoughts. While one might have been tempted to respond negatively to what someone said, they were more likely to exercise a certain politeness rather than seek confrontation.
A boomer professor from the University of Oregon recently remarked that in the past, Americans had some very difficult issues to resolve, like civil rights, the divide over the Vietnam War, and the generation gap — to name a few.
However, the professor concluded that although Americans back then struggled with their differing views on such fundamental issues making up the fabric of our nation, today we seem to voice a loudness over issues of much less significance.
Where is the common ground keeping a civil society whole? When did we stop listening to one another. When did we stop learning from each other? When did we all start thinking that we knew everything? "Divide and conquer," while being a strong phrase, is actually a very divisive concept for a civil society.
Searching for common ground is a much healthier approach for people to take. Baby boomers have their own life experiences to prove it.
Some born between 1945 to 1965 regret the internal family fights they were part of back when they were college students. Many in that age group had fathers who served in World War II. Their mothers often sacrificed much to hold home life together.
The parents and grandparents of baby boomers experienced the harsh effects of the Great Depression. What Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation" had little patience for those who grew their hair long, preaching peace and love on college campuses.
Of course, during that time in our history many boomers rebelled and argued with their parents. This sometimes resulted in emotional scars.
Looking back, one may question whether being right was really better than trying to understand one another.
There is no magic bullet to be found this discussion about civility. But something just does not feel right. Gossip, being angry, trying to defeat others at all costs, making a fool out of another person — these are not good things.
A baby boomer from Chicago shared that his mother was the kindest, nicest person he ever knew. She was someone who always had a smile on her face. He said, "My mother, just by her nature, was always pleasant to the people she encountered, no matter what possible troubles might have existed with them."
This boomer went on to share that his mother taught him civility — by her very actions.
She just thought it was the proper way to carry herself. By contrast, today there is very little that is nice on Capitol Hill. The state of political agitation across both blue and red states seems greater than ever. There is no political party to blame — just people.
There is continually one side of the aisle or the other that is not crafting the kindness quotient, but instead contributes to civil disobedience.
Baby boomers can tell you there were no winners as an outgrowth of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. What they can tell you is that our country suffered terrible scars after Watergate. Let's learn from the past, carving the path forward, one that beginning with kindness to one’s neighbor.
Rick Bava founded and was CEO of the Bava Group, which became the premier communications consulting firm serving the Fortune 500 community. Bava became known for his popular blog columns "Rick Bava on the Baby Boomer Generation." He is the author of "In Search of the Baby Boomer Generation." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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