Civility, is it “Gone with the Wind?”

As I have surfed through social media and watched news reports of late highlighting the actions displayed following our elections, it has broken my heart to see that we are at the point when men and women cannot be more effectively self-governing with their words and actions.
Many years ago, I penned the following thoughts which reflected on the changes of civility I was seeing in my native South. It saddens me beyond end to see the impact that mass media, music, education, and upbringing has had on the next generation as exhibited of late, so I thought I would find some hope in these thoughts:
I have been blessed to travel to many parts of the United States. But there is no feeling to me like crossing those imaginary lines created to define the South.
I breathe easier. I worry less. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the portrayals of Southern gentility in Hollywood movies.
In 1939, there was nothing more shocking in film than Rhett Butler’s “Frankly Scarlet, I don’t …” You know the rest.
In the 1960s, television gave us shows like “The Andy Griffith Show,” which were still genteel on and off the screen. I remember George “Goober” Lindsey once relaying a story about him saying a few off-color words while waiting for the next shot on the set. He did this in spite of a warning by actress Frances “Aunt Bee” Bavier, paraphrasing, “That we don’t speak that way on this set.” She pummeled him with her umbrella. He didn’t do it anymore.
“Civility” refers to the politeness we see every day. The things that make the day a little nicer. These are the things that most Southern parents instill in their children. At least I hope they still do. “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “Respect your elders,” “Ladies, first,” and “Don’t cuss” are just a few of these civilities.
In my travels, I’ve been places where these acts are so alien to them they look at you like you’re from another planet. Where foul language flows like water from a faucet. Where if you stopped to show respect to a funeral procession, you would probably wind up in one yourself, in the lead car.
What is sad to me, in my recent travels around the South, I’m seeing more and more examples of Southern civility fading. The sales clerk or cash register attendant who ignores you or doesn’t respond to your greeting. The person who doesn’t respond to a kindness like holding a door with a “thank you.” Young people not showing respect for their elders. Foul language ringing out in public.
I don’t know whether these examples are due to a lack of parenting, a lack of respect for others, or the saturation of poor-quality TV, films and music in our society during the last few years. Variety of program choices is both a blessing and a curse. Unfortunately, language and visual images that wouldn’t make our series “In the Heat of the Night” in 1990 are now commonplace on the networks. I think Southern civility is becoming a victim of us trying to fit into what we are seeing on television and in film.
In recent years, Southerners in series television act more like transplants from Los Angeles or New York with a Southern accent. Considering that’s where they are probably from, it’s not surprising. The late Carroll O’Connor once told me that “we all say things to be polite.” For example, “Can I help you with that?” when someone is carrying a load, expecting, maybe hoping for, “No thanks, I got it.”
I hope we never lose that in the South. Kindness, politeness, Southern civility is not “Gone with the Wind.” It’s hopefully just swaying a bit in the breeze of popular culture. Maybe it’s just gonna take a few more Aunt Bee’s to remind all of us Goobers how things are supposed to be.
I pray that Americans will once again find the civility and respect for each other that is not only expected but required for a democratic republic to endure and thrive. May God bless us and keep us, everyone.