Panel examines why civility is in decline
Exploring the issue of civility in today's society can be a complex beast, but a group of panelists attempted to shed light on why they believe people are becoming less civil.
The panelists for the event included Domestic Violence Crisis Center Director Rachel Kucera Mehra, First Congregational Church Interim Senior Minister Don Longbottom, Pyschotherapist Ed Moran, Darien Social Services Director Olive Hauser and Darien Police Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson.
Before the audience asked questions, each panelist gave a brief statement about their thoughts on civility and the issues they encounter as part of their jobs.
Mehra said she pulled together some information on domestic violence to give people an idea of how prevalent the issue is in the area.
"In Stamford and Norwalk, 30 percent of the calls to police are domestic violence calls," Mehra said. "You begin to understand that domestic violence is the number one human health issue." She also pointed out that 50 percent of the homicides in the state in 2008 were related to domestic violence incidents.
Mehra noted that no matter how affluent a community it is, it is never immune to the effects of domestic violence.
"We provided services for 130 individuals in Darien," Mehra said.
One of the contributing factors to a lack of civility today was attributed to the rise of technology. Johnson said he has seen an increase in the amount of time the police have spent investigating cases related to electronic harassment.
"Technology has been a catalyst for increased communication," Johnson said. "People seem to lose their inhibitions when they aren't interacting directly and will type or text anything."
He also addressed a concern that people were becoming more prone to road rage.
"Almost everyone has encountered an aggressive driver," Johnson said. "People exhibit territorial behavior when they are in their cars."
Looking at the other end of the spectrum, Johnson said a lack of civility can also be due to how police officers conduct themselves.
"Unfortunately the police are not immune from incivility," Johnson said. "The nature of policing exposes officers to people who aren't at their best."
Johnson said the department has seen an increase in the number of calls from neighbors who are fighting with each other.
"These disputes have the potential to escalate to ridiculous levels," Johnson said.
Even more chilling was the knowledge that the deceased are also subject to abuse.
"We received a few calls saying there were people who posted disgusting things on Andy Peña's memorial Facebook page," Johnson said.
Moran, whose clients are often families, said one of the issues with civility is that the people who need to listen to ways to become more civil aren't talking about it. The statement rang especially true because only a small group of people attended Thursday's panel.
"I grew up in this town and I hear a lot of the same things that were going on when I was a youth," Moran said. "How much you own does not necessarily impact what goes on at the home."
One of the issues Moran sees in the community is that there is more of an attitude of "this isn't any of my business."
"Some situations cause us to behave in a way that we wouldn't normally express," Moran said. "Children are watching everything we do."
Hauser agreed with Moran's take on civility and said the discussion of civility is one that comes up often.
"The discussion is important to have over and over again," Hauser said. "We need to take responsibility for our actions."
Some of the incivility can be attributed to the fact that residents are becoming more stressed as they require more financial need.
Longbottom, who hails from the Southwest, said he saw his first fist fight between two men over their dogs after he came to Connecticut.
"Luckily it was in New Canaan," Longbottom joked.
On a more serious note, Longbottom said the accountability for our actions is severely lacking.
"I think we have a cultural shift taking place," Longbottom said. "Part of this is because of internet and television. The questions remains though: How do we get people to be more respectful?"
One of the topics the panelists spent the most time discussing was possible causes in the perceived increase in violence and anger.
Longbottom said he believed religion was playing a larger role in how people interacted with each other.
"When a religion marginalizes other religions, you begin the degradation of others," Longbottom said.
Moran saw the increase in the number of activities kids are involved in as a contributing factor to incivility.
"Kids are more scheduled now than they have ever been," Moran said. "When kids are overscheduled, that means parents are overscheduled. There also seems to be a shift in keeping kids shielded from failure."
In order to encourage people to behave more appropriately, Johnson said there needs to be more informal social controls as opposed to formal social controls, such as laws.
"Being arrested isn't as powerful as what a neighbor or family member would think of your actions," Johnson said. "There has to be a point where we say this type of behavior is inappropriate."
"Everyone told us how much they enjoyed the speakers and gained something from the event. As you know, our church has been at the forefront of taking on social/moral issues and we will continue to do so," Bassler and Medwid said in a statement. Another civility panel may be approached again in the future, but for now, Bassler and Medwid said they will be focusing on their next event which is a discussion about interfaith.