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Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Courtesy is defined by Merriam-Webster as “behavior marked by polished manners or respect for others; courteous behavior; a courteous and respectful act or expression,” and civility as “civilized conduct, especially courtesy, politeness.”

As a news outlet which publishes in both hard copy and electronic formats, we strive to cover today’s issues with both courtesy and civility, and with respect. Respect for differing opinions, differing political views, differing lifestyles and differing religious beliefs. Variety, after all, is the spice of life.

Covering the news, and sharing with our readers the events and happenings in their communities, is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. We do our best to present information in a fair and unbiased manner, letting the reader make up their own mind as to what events interest them and what position they take on a divisive or controversial issue. We welcome readers’ thoughts and opinions, both via letters to the editor and in comments on our website and Facebook posts.

Unfortunately, we have noticed a growing trend – particularly in social media comments—whereby courtesy, civility, and respect have been replaced by discourtesy, incivility, disrespect, and, in the extreme, hate speech.

Comments in June regarding an AllOtsego Facebook announcement for the Otsego County Conservation Association’s Queer Paddle, during Pride Month, became so egregious that we eventually removed the post. We had been monitoring the thread of comments, “hiding” those that were inappropriate, but missed one remark over the weekend that was entirely unacceptable and just plain mean.

OCCA Executive Director Amy Wyant wrote a letter to the editor the following week, calling out the commenters in question for being negative and bigoted. “This is unacceptable behavior,” she wrote.

And she was right.

Have people forgotten how to be courteous? Have social and electronic media opened the flood gates for abusive, vituperative statements made in writing that most would not dare to say to someone’s face? It certainly seems so. And lest the right starts blaming the left—or vice versa—let us make it perfectly clear that this bad behavior is not exclusive to either. Nor is it unique to male or female, young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated.

Before common courtesy falls entirely by the wayside, and social etiquette becomes a thing of the past, perhaps we should all reexamine how we treat others in our daily lives, not just on social media. Sure, some things have evolved and changed over the years. Kissing someone’s hand is no longer seen as polite, you don’t have to wear black to a funeral, and gender-neutral pronouns and honorifics are now preferred. But the basics remain: holding the door for the person behind you; saying “thank you” when someone holds the door for you; saying “please” when you are requesting something; giving up your seat on the bus to a person in greater need; saying “excuse me” before you walk in front of someone in the grocery aisle; saying “pardon me” when you burp or bump into someone; cleaning up after your pet; returning your shopping cart to the corral; and so on.

With regard to comments made online and on social media, perhaps our mothers said it best: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Showing courtesy—or simply being kind, even when our viewpoint conflicts wildly with that of someone else—doesn’t cost us anything. Being mindful of the feelings of others doesn’t lessen or discount our own beliefs. We can make our opinions known in ways that are not harmful to, or disparaging of, our neighbors. Courtesy and civility are part and parcel of being good citizens.

After all, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.


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