January 2022: Civility

In the 1950’s, there was an American politician named Joseph McCarthy who was accusing virtually everyone of being a Communist. His vicious attacks provoked an ethos in American society of paranoia, including people turning in friends and relatives to save themselves, and many people losing their careers and even committing suicide. The legacy of this is the word “McCarthyism” to describe tactics of attacking people, turning them against one another, and provoking paranoia.

In 1954 a lawyer named Joseph Welsh was being questioned viciously about an innocent young lawyer in his firm. Welsh famously refused to answer, and said to McCarthy:  “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my dentist’s office waiting to be seen. While I waited, three different older women came into the office.
Each one had their temperature taken with the “forehead gun” (as did I) and then each of them was asked a series of questions about their general medical condition, including whether they had the Covid vaccination and if so, which one. All of the women seemed uncomfortable to various degrees (one refused to answer) but I don’t think they were as uncomfortable as me. Here I was, a total stranger, and these women were being asked to divulge personal medical information in front of me (and after the first one, in front of each other). It brought the Welsh quote to mind.

Regardless of anyone’s position on Covid, the vaccination and the mandates, where did we lose our sense of civility, our sense of decency? Couldn’t we all agree, from any perspective, that human beings are entitled to be treated with dignity? Couldn’t we all agree, from any perspective, that human beings are entitled to a right to privacy?

So many things have changed in society over these past two crazy years, and I hope when/if we “get to the other side” there will still be a society where we respect each other’s boundaries, autonomy and privacy.   As individuals, and as parents being role models for our children, we can dedicate ourselves right now, in the midst of this, to treat others with dignity and respect. At the end of the day, all any of us can control is how we behave.