Do We Still Have a 'Civil' Society?

The accepted bounds of decorum and civility have seemed to disintegrate around us.

Living in Washington, D.C., I always admired the way American legislators could disagree violently on political issues during the day and yet have a friendly dinner together at night.

This mature form of disagreement was certainly not in evidence in England during my tenure there running the Royal Opera House. Every week, the Prime Minister and other members of the cabinet are subjected to "Question Time," when the leader of the opposition and others of his party can make the nastiest statements to the collective amusement of their fellow opposition Members of Parliament.

I found that this open hostility amongst the country's leaders provided a terrible role model for the nation and was contagious. Professional arts managers would criticize each other publicly and to the press. Letters from the public used the vilest of words. When a children's performance at the Opera House had to be canceled, one teacher had her students write essays entitled: Why I hate the Royal Opera House. One student's essay began, "Dear Mr. Kaiser we wish you were dead." These essays were bound in a book and sent to me.

When I returned to the United States I once again enjoyed the positive spirit, and cordial behavior, of my countrymen.

But when a Congressman can call the President a liar while the nation watches, when legislators condone the carrying of firearms to Presidential speeches, when town halls are hijacked by out of control protesters, we are in danger of losing the 'civil' in our society.

This behavior stands in stark contrast to that of Senator Edward M. Kennedy's Republican counterparts at his funeral. Here was one of the most vocally liberal politicians of our time being sincerely praised by others with whom he disagreed on so many issues.

It is time for those of us who care about intelligent discourse, who value the best of human achievement, who refuse to see our country devolve into a scene from Lord of the Flies to fight back and assert our majority view. It is time once again to set firm boundaries on acceptable behavior.