I make it a habit not to comment on current events or politics. But the Roseanne Barr story, like the Kathy Griffin story before it, got me thinking about the general rise in incivility in public discourse. Social media is part of the cause. It’s a lot easier to troll people than look them in the eye when you are saying nasty things. It’s also driven by the desire people have to get attention and build a brand in an increasingly competitive and crowded landscape. Both Roseanne and Kathy are comedians who make a living out of provoking people. But as these stories demonstrate, even in the business of provocation there are limits.
I mention this because I’ve perceived an increase in incivility among students in the College. The vast majority of our students are very polite. It’s one of the strengths of our culture and it’s one I want to preserve and strengthen because good business practice, perhaps unlike politics, is driven by civility.
This does not mean people can’t disagree. People hold different views. Sometimes they are passionate about their position and present it with conviction. To do so civilly and gracefully is a sign of strength and professionalism. It is also way more likely to get you the desired result. In fact, universities were created to be safe places where people can do just that. All voices must be heard in scholarly debate and peaceful social progress cannot be achieved without mutual respect.
Conversely, I have never seen a person persuade someone else by being rude or uncivil. It just increases the likelihood of a similar response. In extreme cases it leads to damaged reputations and lost opportunities. So whether it’s frustration over grades, academic progress, or not getting credit for a class because you showed up late, students might want to pause before they speak, email or tweet and ask themselves what their reaction says about them. I think they will find there is no downside to civility.