A (Hopefully) Civil Discourse on Incivility

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civility

I remember reading a 1997 speech by the late, great Roberto Goizueta, legendary CEO of The Coca-Cola Company during its rock & roll years of the 1980s and ‘90s. It had been delivered a weekend or two before at a commencement exercise on some campus in some state somewhere, I don’t recall. The topic was “civility” and that intrigued me because I was used to writing speeches that routinely dealt with important but not-so-invigorating topics like market share, share gain, year-over-year growth, blah-blah-blah. So much so that one speech often felt and sounded like another. It’s sometimes hard to differentiate your writing when the speaker’s expectation is somewhat formulaic.

Mr. Goizueta’s speech struck me because the topic was human-based, not business-based. As I recall, there were numerous examples cited of declining civility in America with a final challenge issued to the audience of college graduates to rise above the escalating trend towards incivility and help America reclaim the virtues of respect, honor and common courtesy.

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Roberto Alomar, Davey Johnson, John Hirschbeck

There was a specific reference to the shameful 1997 incident in which Baltimore Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar reacted to a called third-strike by spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck. I also remember thinking at the time, “How much lower can we sink as a society?”

Don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear answered.

____________________

A long-time friend of mine, Chip Namias, recently posted what he called a “how-things-have-changed rant of the day” to his Facebook wall. It dealt with unreturned emails and phone calls. Chip has spent his entire career striving to be the best public relations practitioner he can be. And he’s damned good. We first met when Chip was the tall, skinny PR kid for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the old North American Soccer League. (Thirty years later, he’s still tall and still skinny. And he’s one of the few Florida Gators I call a friend.) I was a 23-year-old sportswriter, recently assigned to the Strikers beat. From the very first day Chip and I met, I felt like he always had time for me and was always there to serve and to assist me, to make my job easier. Needless to say, my calls to him were returned – pronto! Emails, well, we didn’t have email back then.

Chip went on to excel in PR Director positions with the Miami Dolphins and Houston Oilers and, along the way, received the Pete Rozelle Award for being the NFL’s top PR executive. Suffice to say, Chip is good. A pro. And a very hard worker. These days, he deals largely with media relations for Hollywood types and also serves as an NFL rules official (he’s the one to blame if your preferred call isn’t overturned up in the booth).

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I get a huge kick out of seeing pictures of Chip with Jennifer Aniston, hangin’ with Bill Clinton in The Hamptons, Tim Tebow, Miss America, Johnny Manziel, Mickey Mantle, Don Mattingly, John Wooden, Joe Frazier, even the original cast from Leave It to Beaver.

Dude gets around.

I digress.

Chip’s Facebook post took to task the increasing number of people who don’t return phone calls or emails within 24 hours (he even cut them some slack and reluctantly doubled the allowable grace period to 48 hours). He called out those who simply responded with the “sounds of silence”. His post drew immediate reaction, some in agreement, others with flourishes of humor. Quickly, there were 21 “Likes” and 16 comments, including mine.

“Barring a death, illness or being out of town, there is just no valid reason for not (returning calls and emails),” he posted. “That was certainly a rule when I managed a staff.” Other commenters who had managed PR staffs agreed and one mentioned it was “an iron-clad rule” that you respond within 24 hours.

Irony of ironies: More than ever before, we have the ability to respond literally at our finger tips via wireless devices that we seem to treat with the respect and reverence usually reserved for amazing marriages. Yet, we often don’t.

It’s a form of incivility …

____________________

In the past several weeks, I have personally experienced a bothersome spate of unresponsiveness. And it’s difficult not be offended. Without being too specific, suffice to say there are at least 10 instances in which I have sent an email, left a voicemail, private-messaged via Facebook, or sent a text message (in some cases, several texts) and … I get the sounds of silence. What’s particularly perplexing is a number of these folks I’ve reached out to (did I really use that “corporate-speak” phrase?), are people I’ve known for a long time. Others, ironically, actually make their living in the world of communications.

Yet, they’re incommunicado.

My intent here is not to chastise and get all preachy. Lord knows, we already have enough people telling others what to do. And I realize these ever-connected times have turned the traditional notion of busy-ness on its ear. Everyone, it seems, is going ninety-to-nuthin’ these days. (Oh, for the leisurely days of yore when being busy was only a fraction of today’s definition of busy.)

Much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I know that my priority is not necessarily someone else’s priority. I get it. I also get that hyper-connectivity may have unfairly elevated my expectations of others’ responsiveness. Perhaps I expect too much, I don’t know.

Oprah Winfrey often says in matters of communication, we all want the same three questions answered:

Do you see me?

– Do you hear me?

– Does what I say matter? 

Think about that. A non-response is an unequivacal “No” to all three questions.

____________________

True confessions …

As I write this, I just remembered that I received a lengthy, important Facebook private message from a friend that I haven’t yet responded to. (Cringe!) Because I was driving when the message “dinged” in, I made a mental note to respond when I arrived at my destination. Alas, the mental note slipped between some of the mental cracks in my head.

Busted.

Thus, I would like to issue a challenge … to me.

In the spirit of Ghandi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, I’m challenging myself to return all phone messages, emails, texts, Facebook messages, LinkedIn InMails, smoke signals, etc. – and to do it within 24 hours, not the 48 cut-‘em-some-slack hours my buddy Chip mentioned in his post. Consider it my little contribution to kindness and civility. I invite you to take the challenge, too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me … I have a message from three days ago I need to return.

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