On Civility

I have been known to flip someone the proverbial bird. Rarely is this action anything other than jesting with good friends when they’ve said something outrageous. Times they are a changing.

I was sitting in the Washington State Ferry terminal waiting area at Coleman Dock reading USA Today on my iPhone, when I heard a commotion at the ticketing desk. I looked up and saw a man in his early 20s speaking loudly to the ticket seller.  I didn’t think much of it and went back to reading sports articles on my iPhone.

Suddenly, my personal space was violated with the young man demanding to use my iPhone. I looked up at him and said politely “No.” He started swearing at me and demanded my iPhone again. I gave him my best silent evil eye maintaining unblinking contact. Soon he gave up and went scurrying off.

A few minutes later my peace was interrupted by the same young man yelling angrily at the nearby ticket taker in obvious frustration.  His ferry to Bremerton had departed while he was off doing whatever he was doing.

He turned and made a beeline to me and started yelling at me and calling me an asshole. He proceeded to blame me for missing his ferry.  I continued to stare at him with my best evil eye not wanting to get into any kind of a discussion with this rude person. Abruptly, he flipped me a bird with each of his two middle fingers and stalked off.

I had plenty of time to reflect about this incident as I rode the ferry to my home on Bainbridge Island.  Several years ago when we had flip “dumb” phones, I would probably have lent the phone to the young man.  Today, the iPhone has most of my life and is more precious to me and more valuable than what I have in my wallet.  I couldn’t imagine stomping up to somebody and demanding their wallet.  Why would somebody think I would even begin to lend them my smart phone.

Normally, I would have muttered about this for a while and shared the story with a few friends and moved on, but this one stuck in my craw.

The event followed a miserable sequence of classes I taught in the UW Foster School MBA program where several of the 20 year old masters and mistresses of the universe very aggressively told me I was an idiot and a terrible teacher.  Not one on one, but in the midst of our evening classes.

I don’t mind being challenged in class.  It is what makes teaching graduate school such an enjoyable intellectual experience. It was the attacking uncivil manner in which the behavior occurred.  The experience was completely out of place and uncalled for.  Very uncivil.

While I would like to think that these were isolated events or a sign of the generation gap between the baby boomer generation and the millenials, I am beginning to think it might be a pattern.

Where has civility gone with this coming generation and where is the extraordinary respect we should have for each other.

What can each of us do today to make the world a more civil place?

Give civility a chance.


Practice random kindness.

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3 Responses to On Civility

  1. John Hertel says:

    Skip, this post reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague a couple of months ago regarding my sense that the “language of business” has seemingly become much meaner over the last 10 years. I can distinctly recall, 10-15 years ago, having some “serious” disagreements with colleagues — often in front of lots of other colleagues — and yet there was a respect, and a lack of the kind of personal attacks that seem so commonplace today. Maybe I was just a naive, freshly-minted MBA at the time and didn’t know any better. But, I find myself a witness to far too many uncivil conversations in this day and age that I fear, as you do, that this has become the new norm.

  2. Melissa R. says:

    Hi Skip,
    I’m subscribed to your blog and wanted to say there’s always so many interesting posts to read, and this one really caught my attention. It always stinks to hear that the shortcomings of the 20-somethings of the world, especially when you’re part of that generation. I’m under the impression people in general, regardless of generation, aren’t the same as they used to be. Times change, and people have seemed to get a little more disgruntled in the process. I’ve experienced this all over the place, and it feels like the only way to get through it is to be polite, respectful, and kind to others, because you never know what someone else is going through. That’s what my family has taught me and what I’ll always try to practice, although you’ll always run into some bad days!

    I was also surprised to hear about the MBA student responses to your teaching. Taking a course lectured by you was probably one of the most informative and eye opening to me, giving me confidence to not be afraid to fail and how to step up and learn from failure. Thank you for what you’ve taught me!

  3. Pingback: Postscript to On Civility | On the Way to Somewhere Else

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