Sunday, October 24, 2021

Can We Ever be Respectful to One Another Again?

When the pandemic is over will we be kind to each other once again, or will the nastiness that we have become accustomed to over the past 20 months become part of our new normal?

A question being asked by many, particularly those who deal with the public as part of their job, and who have become targets of rage-filled citizens often spewing insults and vitriol for no apparent reason.

Not that this pandemic has caused this newly fashionable nastiness, we were already heading in that direction, but this pandemic has heightened and exacerbated those rageful outbursts, bringing them to the fore.

There is no question that the past year and a half has been a boon for bullies. Store clerks have been hammered with angry customers refusing to wear masks, or frustrated at longer than normal shopping experiences. Government workers, teachers, elected representatives, reporters, and even doctors and nurses have all become seemingly acceptable targets for all of this pent up rage.

I know personally that I have been called more nasty names in the past 18 months than in the previous 18 years. I have witnessed folks go from calm to outraged in the blink of an eye, and horrid accusations and insinuations are sure to follow.

In recent months I have spoken to municipal staffers who have been beaten down and run through the ringer with insults and name calling replacing our traditional polite even if strained interactions with others. Some municipal staffers have even had to take stress leave as a result of this horrible treatment.

Social media has certainly played a role in our increasing inability to be nice to each other. A screen and keyboard make some much braver than they would be face to face, and as a result some of the most horrible comments and insults come to us via email or social media comments, but even in the presence of others, some of us just can’t manage to treat others with respect.

Anyone who has spent any time surfing videos of public outbursts knows well that this is not a Meaford problem, or an Ontario problem. As a species we seem to have gotten nastier in all corners of the planet, though seemingly even more so in North America.

Friendships have been lost during this pandemic, with differing views on things like mask requirements or gathering socially having created major divisions among some, and those friendships might never be repaired.

I think we all need to step back, take a deep breath, and reassess how we interact with others. Is this really the world we want to live in? A world where many are walking, talking, simmering pots waiting to boil over at the slightest inconvenience? I know that is not a world I enjoy.

Those prone to publicly castigating store clerks or government office workers should be asking themselves why they feel entitled to treat others in such a way. Perhaps the nastiest among us fail to realize that these are people just like you, just like me. They have spouses and children, they are sons and daughters, and they are simply doing the best they can to earn a living in order to support their families, yet some feel they have the right to treat them like dirt.

I’m not certain how the problem can be fixed, but I think we need to focus on regaining respect for one another. I recall a time when we could have significant ideological or political differences with someone yet still be close friends. That former reality seems to have been lost to a more tribal present, where you are either 100 percent aligned or you are an enemy. It needs to stop, we need to remember the value of treating others as we would like to be treated.

We were already on the road to a meaner, nastier, less friendly world, and this pandemic has accelerated and compounded the issue, and as a society we are meaner and nastier than ever.

Can we get along once again? Can we at least return to the point that we don’t feel entitled to belittle and insult shop clerks or government workers over petty complaints and frustrations? Or have we already gone too far, and the divisions between cordial and respectful versus mean and nasty are too deep, and too well entrenched, and we should expect to be publicly beaten down by strangers at any given moment forever more?

Those of us that have been on the receiving end of the nasty comments, the hurtful names, the insane accusations, are sick of it, yet we continue to be respectful in return. I suspect that at some point that respect will not be returned, and then what?

Be kind, be respectful, and keep your nastiness to yourself. Everyone is simply doing their best in trying times. It certainly doesn’t help to be constantly bracing yourself for verbal battery from those you are simply trying to serve.

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