Have you noticed how we don't listen to each other, don't talk to each other? We seldom talk face to face. Our world has changed, and we are constantly being bombarded with information that comes at us louder and faster, and we listen only to those who agree with our way of thinking. We don't want to hear another side. When we turn on the myriad devices we have on hand — radio, TV, Internet, iPods, blogs, and we Twitter away — it's with those who think and behave like we do.
In the old days, we had to write a letter and mail it in order to get Captain Marvel's secret message decoder so we could decipher the secret message he sent during his daily radio program. Now, we have to learn to text on our own if we want to contact our family members. Otherwise, we are out of luck. Where was texting when I had to learn how to spell and do cursive writing in school?
The airwaves and Internet have allowed anyone, anywhere to say whatever they wish and do it anonymously. People are banking on us taking what they say as factual, since many of us are unwilling to take the time to verify the facts and form our own opinions. That's why some politicians and unscrupulous individuals (sometimes one and the same) are glad to see the newspaper industry shrinking. With newspapers, people know the source, count on the information being factual and, when it's not, they can count on a retraction. We seem to be less discerning, stuck in our own ideas and turned inward. Is it any wonder we are more polarized, more resentful, more distrustful? We show less respect, and at times hostility, to our leaders and each other, and we trust less in our institutions. We are left with a jaundiced perception of the world and a growing mistrust of our leaders and institutions.
Globalization, technology, Internet and demographics have dramatically changed our world, leaving our social institutions crystallized and unable to respond to the needs of a changing society. As a consequence, we have become fearful of the unknown, cynical and threatened as the world is getting smaller and the borders disappearing. Then there are some who exploit our fears, rail at and put down our leaders, government, national symbols and social institutions such as religions, family and schools. Nothing is off limits for being disrespected. We are fast becoming bands of individuals that do not connect with each other.
At a time when we should be reaching out to each other, we seem more divided and willing to rest on our past successes, rather than to look forward. The strength of our nation has been its ethos of optimism and eagerness to take on new challenges. Thomas Jefferson understood that when he wrote, "As new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times." We need to renew our faith in ourselves and get about taking on the task of renewing our institutions, rather than putting them down.
What is needed is for us to begin listening to each other with open minds and open hearts, to get about the business of shoring up our institutions and return civility and hope to our way of life. Past generations had the faith and willingness to pull together to meet the challenges of the day. It starts with a sense of community and respecting our leaders, our nation's symbols and most important — each other.
Civility requires listening and starts with each of us.
A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column was originally published Jan. 11, 2012.