By NANCY PATRICK
I vividly remember my mother’s words to me as I neared the door to leave home to visit a friend or go on a date: “Behave yourself!” As a teenager, I didn’t know I would become an English teacher and would study sentences of all types. Do you remember these: declarative, imperative, interrogative, and exclamatory?
If not, I’ll refresh your memory by telling you that my mom’s sentence, “Behave yourself,” is an imperative sentence. Imperative sentences make a direct request or polite command of the sentence’s recipient. That means the reader of the sentence should do whatever the speaker has requested. That means YOU. When my mom told me to behave myself, she meant that I must make myself behave; no one else could do it for me.
I learned this lesson as a teenager, but evidently many people never learned to behave themselves. An often-discussed topic today reflects on the lack of civility in our society. That incivility itself results in acts of bad behavior, such as rudeness and spitefulness. However, sometimes this disrespect, crudeness, profanity, prejudice, and meanness produce tragic consequences.
As a society, we have always misbehaved and dealt with misbehavior, but we recognized its ugliness. As children we sometimes made fun of other children for their differences. Bold, undisciplined children sometimes dared to sass a teacher or use inappropriate language in the classroom. In most cases, I remember my teachers corrected those misdemeanors quickly. Teachers often taught polite social behavior in addition to their chosen subjects.
The world I grew up in no longer exists. Not only has technology made daily living more difficult for our older generations, but the entire social environment has changed from one of politeness to one of rudeness, anger, impatience, and even violence. We live in a stressful society, not knowing what might trigger a dangerous reaction from another person.
Some people suggest that an increase in mental illness has produced this bad behavior. We know that many homeless people suffer from mental illness, yet most of them do not have the means or even the motivation to seek medical help. We encourage people to seek help when they realize they suffer from depression or have other symptoms of mental problems.
Ironically, tennis prodigy Naomi Osaka recently took the brave step to refuse media interviews because the negative tenor of the reporters affected her self-esteem and thus her performance. Her action took courage and expressed her outcry for help. In response, the French Open officials fined her, saying her refusal was unprofessional. At that point, Osaka withdrew from competition.
Our society sends mixed messages to those who suffer from depression or have other mental health issues. Cruel individuals make fun of those people. Referring to psychiatric hospitals as “nut houses” or calling ill people “whackos” not only conveys an unsympathetic response to someone who needs help but also reflects the worst kind of bad behavior—certainly not something people who behave themselves would do.
As much as Americans love sports, some fans have begun behaving badly toward the athletes they pay to see. Recently, disgruntled fans threw water bottles at players and even spat on one. Society should not tolerate such abuse.
In spite of federal laws regulating behavior onboard airplanes, some passengers have become belligerent and violent. You would think the freedom to socialize and travel once again would inspire gratitude. Not so! Some passengers have refused to wear the required masks while others have actually attacked flight attendants. Just recently, a passenger knocked out a flight attendant’s front teeth.
Though my examples illustrate completely unacceptable behavior, they do not compare with the serious rash of violent, irrational behavior that suddenly erupts throughout our country every day. I’m talking about road rage in which an intolerant driver shot a six-year-old to death in his car seat as his mother drove him to kindergarten.
I’m talking about disgruntled employees or total strangers who walk into schools, businesses, churches, or malls with semi-automatic weapons and randomly wipe out the lives of those who have the misfortune to be there. These senseless killings have stunned our minds and assaulted our innate sense of right and wrong.
All around us people behave in selfish, cruel, immoral, ungodly behaviors. For whatever reason—abuse, poverty, sense of injustice, hatred, trauma, prejudice, or fear—these people lack a moral or spiritual compass that (I believe) most of us have.
I wish I could offer a solution to these tragic problems. Has the division in our country made it impossible to agree on some rational solutions simply because we might have to sacrifice a personal right or freedom? I understand how much Americans value their individuality and freedom. I embrace the concepts of personal responsibility and liberty; however, I also feel a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate than I.
I grieve over the tragedies that happen every day all over the world. I know I cannot fix the world or even my own nation, but surely I can behave myself. I can urge all of us to behave ourselves.
A beautiful verse in Galatians 5:22-23 expresses the real solution to our incivility: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (NIV)
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing