"Modern communitarianism can be considered a reaction to excessive individualism, understood by communitarians as an undue emphasis on individual rights, leading people to become selfish or egocentric."
("Communitarianism" The Common Good Versus Individual Rights."
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2015)
In Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985), the American sociologist Robert Neelly Bellah observed that by the early 1980s most Americans had become self-centered. Increasing prosperity from the 1950s, among other factors, had contributed to a decline in respect for traditional authority and institutions, such as marriage, and fostered a kind of materialistic hedonism, according to many communitarians.
Our trivial acts can be very important. Courtesy is an example. It is referred to it in many different ways, such as civility, good manners, good behavior, good conduct, politeness, decency, respect for others, thoughtfulness, kindness, and consideration.
Author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) described courtesy: "Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in."
Paul Johnson -- English journalist, historian, speechwriter and author -- on February 15, 1997 wrote in New Zealand’s The Spectator, "We tend to think today that good manners and right morals are entirely separate. But the truth is, they are a continuum. Bad manners and high crime rates are all part of the same disease."
I think courtesy in American society has become increasingly rarer since Bellah made his observation in the 1980s. I also agree that hedonistic materialism has superseded the need for common courtesy. Today, so many people want to exercise rights and privileges, particularly ones that favor their own interests, without regard for the feelings of others who may be negatively influenced by their selfish personal behaviors.
Let me give you three examples that I believe show lack of courtesy.
1. Smoking in public may be a right in various places, yet some smokers give no consideration of how secondhand smoke and the ugly litter left by openly discarded cigarette butts affects others.
2. Having a fire pit that burns logs in an close urban environment may be a right, but some fire pit owners care nothing about how the fire and smoke they produce poses a dangerous environment for nearby neighbors.
3. Talking in a crowded theater may be a right; however, those who carry on lengthy conversations and whose speech disrupts others watching a film robs the quiet moviegoers of their pleasant entertainment experience, and may prove to be a stimulus that creates a disastrous, financially and emotionally costly evening with friends or family.
Etiquette in a culture provides the code of conduct and thus lays the foundation for the basic pattern of social interaction. Etiquette relates to what is socially appropriate and is very socially grounded. Etiquette involves appropriate behavior developed from social customs according to psychological principles and from codes of behavior developed from the collective consciousness. In other words, codes for proper social interaction depend upon these two sources as they refer to expected etiquette:
1. Culture and Customs of nations, and
2. Collective Consciousness of the people.
Writer-analyst-speaker Saberi Roy, recently wrote:
"Culture and customs define the social appropriateness of etiquette and the collective unconscious provides the foundation on which etiquette could be developed or explained.
"The collective consciousness is a repository of emotions or experiences of the past and especially experiences of the ancestors or people who have lived within a society and these experiences are carried over in some form to the present generation. Usually the collective consciousness is felt through a sense of shared time, shared past, shared emotions, shared history, and a sense of shared responsibility."
(Saberi Roy. "The Psychology of Etiquette." ezinearticles.com. November 18, 2010)
Are we losing a collective consciousness in modern America? Are we becoming more concerned about our own individual consciousness at the cost of depriving society of own caring, courteous obligation to our fellow man? I believe we are guilty of both transgressions.
It seems many animals have a much stronger connection to a collective consciousness than do humans. Of course, this explains how they instinctively can do things that they consciously have never learned -- like a colony of ants building an underground complex, a vast fortress complete with a ventilation system.
What many people no longer consider is that their DNA (the essence of the physical individual makeup of unique cultures and customs of their nation) has a direct influence on the collective consciousness of all, and this collective consciousness creates their reality. The could use their own DNA to respond to thoughts and feelings to influence the world. They could do so with courtesy and respect while following proper etiquette.
How joyful it would be to live in a community full of people who practice much less ego-oriented decision making and who commit themselves to practice thoughtful and considerate behavior that would raise the collective consciousness of the entire group.
I absolutely believe most of us have been taught to be good to one another on a very superficial level. Yet, our individualistic approach to life is so embedded in our American psyches as freedom-and-liberty-loving Americans that we believe our rights supersede common courtesy and etiquette. To any compassionate, caring individual, they simply don't. To these merciful folks, manners are often more important than cold, written laws that provide them the means to injure others.
The widely accepted Golden Rule, or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim and ethical code that essentially states either of the following:
* One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself (directive form).
* One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (cautionary form, also known as the Silver Rule of Hillel the Elder, (110 BCE--10 CE) Jewish religious leader.
To Christians, the Golden Rule is commonly known from the Holy Bible, Luke 6:31) The verse states:
"Do to others what you would want them to do to you."
Although easy to understand, easy to apply, and easy to teach, the Golden Rule erodes in an egotistical, materialistic, by-the-book society. Yes, I do believe courteous, trivial acts are extremely important. Instead of screaming "I have the right to do this!" perhaps more of us should be silently thinking before initiating actions and considering what negative effects our selfish deeds may have on those around us, the people who inhabit our undeniable collective consciousness that stands sorely in need of respect for others.