It all started with a speech given by Jim Spigelman, Chief Justice of New South Wales. Although the speech is more about the role of the rule of law in the development of Australian democracy, what grabbed the headlines is the second part of the speech, which deals with the decline of civility in legal proceedings. A quote:
There is from time to time social commentary suggesting that there has been a decline in the level of civility in our society. It is not clear how one measures this.
There does, however, appear to be a growing concern with personal conduct in many areas of discourse: the emergence of road-rage; the behaviour of parents at school sporting events, referred to as the “ugly parent syndrome”; the prevalence of offensive language in many spheres of social interaction and popular culture; the sensationalism of a media driven by declining circulations and audiences; the indifference to the tranquillity of others by the infliction of noise, whether from boorish conduct or mobile phones; the vulgarity and rudeness of reality TV shows; the selfishness of littering; the virtual disappearance in common discourse of words such as “please”, “thank you” and “sorry”.
It appears that the speech sparked a short, but interesting, debate on the issue. For example, an editorial on the issues suggests that there is too much tolerance at bad behaviour in many areas of discourse.
I think many people underestimate how much good being polite can bring about, myself included.