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We are living in an ever worsening toxic environment.

I am not talking of pesticides and other toxins in our food and water, or the pollutants in the air we breathe.

I am referring to the ever increasing toxic atmosphere caused by rudeness and incivility that is creeping into our society and our daily lives.

This economic meltdown is not helping matters; everyone is stressed out in some way or other. Bullying, disrespect and rudeness is rampant in the workplace; this is costing both employees and employers.

Workers are less effective and efficient, they accomplish less in a given amount of time and they make more mistakes and waste more in materials. Workers call in sick more often, and experience burnout faster.

Employers do not help matters; they fail to address low morale in the workplace and more often than not  contribute to it. They make the situation worse with threats both implied and overt. Managers under stress themselves from their bosses, take on the attitude that a worker can quit because I can fill his vacant position before he reaches the door.

Most workplaces are now free of tobacco smoke; laws have been put in place to ban smoking. However, banning verbally abusive behavior is less easy; it is harder to recognize and eliminate and in many ways it is worse. A person can walk away from a smoke filled environment, but rudeness and incivility is contagious, it gets spread on down the line and multiplies.

On the commute home it manifests as road rage, and a person having a heated confrontation on a cell phone while driving is at the highest level of distraction. A person brings it home to his family; it extends into our schools. It goes viral on the Internet; it spreads to sporting events.

The situation is dire and needs to be addressed immediately. We cannot wait for the economy to turn around; in fact the low morale caused by workplace abuse is actually slowing the recovery.

So what can any individual do about it? The answer, stop buying into this trend. Make an effort to say something nice to someone; if that is too much to handle then at least don’t contribute and pass on the abuse. Remember what your momma told you, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.”

If you are at the receiving end of verbal abuse just say, “You have a blessed day,” and walk away. Think about it; by doing that you have done yourself and everyone else a huge favor. You have defused the situation and even if it has no lasting effect on the perpetrator, it has relieved your stress level.

If nothing else this is good for your own health. Stress will ultimately manifest itself as physical ailments; cancer, heart issues and strokes.

Get friends and coworkers to see what is happening in your work environment; lead by example, others will notice you are happier and less stressed. Envision a negative free workplace; if people can create a smoke free workplace, they can create a verbally safe workplace.

Just as those who don’t use cigarettes are harmed by second hand smoke; innocent bystanders are harmed by a verbally hostile environment.

Opt out of the abuse; remember that ultimately no one can offend you with verbal abuse unless you choose to be offended. Become an army of one in the fight against rudeness and incivility.


Footnote: This is a re-write of a piece by a good friend of mine, Mitch Carnell, on his Ethics Daily site. I would like to add that cyclists, who constantly run red lights and blast through stop signs without even slowing, are always quick to point out that there is no harm as it is cars kill people not bicycles.

That is not the point; it is rudeness.

One would not push in line at the supermarket or theater, don’t do it in traffic. It perpetuates anger and road rage against all cyclists. Don’t point the finger, and say cars run stop signs and red lights all the time. Anti-social behavior by one group is no excuse for another individual or group to engage in rudeness and incivility.



Reader Comments (7)

While I essentially agree with you in every particular, I nonetheless feel compelled to point out that taking the express lane is not incivility, it is qualification. In some cases it might even be uncivil to not take the express lane when qualified.

This, of course, requires judgment, something that is also in shortage as we more and more rely on mechanical rule following. Note that pilots are required by law to disregard instructions from the control tower in certain situations.


October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkfg

Sorry but I fail to see where any part of your comment is relevant to this particular post. But maybe I am missing something.

October 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Thanks for this post Dave. It is absolutely true that civility has declined. In large part I attribute this to a new internet environment in which people can say any outrageous thing that springs to mind under the cloak of anonymity without fear of opprobrium, coupled with a toxic political environment in which ends justify the means, regardless of how deceitful those means may be, and "others" are demonized at every turn. I hate to reduce the discussion to its simplest terms, but the "Golden Rule" still applies, regardless of one's faith or political persuasion.

Some may say that a "bicycling blog" should not be weighing in on such matters, but I think of your blog as YOUR blog, and you are free to comment on that which you think is important. Peace.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTimJ

"maybe I am missing something."


October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkfg

Some colleges and universities have classes on “Civility.” Imagine that, classes on “How not to be a prick” for twenty something year olds who should have learned that as a kid from their parents.

October 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Self entitled self absorbed world. I have a nice Ti bike with 11 speed Super Record but opt to ride my Harley instead. Bloody shame.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarge

Dave, I will believe what you say here, but my experience does not necessarily back it up. I suspect that may be because I don't live in a city and only occasionally make it down into someplace with more than 20k people living in it. It's easy to help out someone who is older - carrying grocery bags, exchanging something at the store (just yesterday in fact). I don't drive much or far and that may help as well. I was in Edinburgh recently for ten days - walked most places - and found the people there by and large friendly and willing ti help a stranger in a strange land. I'm no Pollyanna, and I have at times seen incredible obtuseness in young people, especially in the service industry. But hasn't that always been the case? Young people exist in a mode and world all their own. It takes time and experience to learn that actions have consequences. I very much believe that we create the universe we inhabit. I think you do as well.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

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