The Civility of Home (Alone)

Two things have featured in the Australian media this past week. Both reported in isolation but I much suspect are actually connected.

The first is the level of loneliness reported in Australia which matches similar research from the US. The second is how the levels of civility throughout all facets of society is considered to be declining. Whilst this week’s media attention didn’t feature any additional commentary from outside Australia, one only has to peruse the media with civility in mind to see that this, reported or not, is a global phenomenon.

For example, just this past week, French President Emmanuel Macron set a teenager straight at a commemoration for World War II heroes who referred to the French President as ‘Manu’ rather than either a formal title or more polite reference. The incident caught the attention of the world media because the President, quite rightly counseled the boy about appropriate standards of civil behaviour and reminded him that the values of the French Revolution (liberté, egalité and fraternité) have not displaced the virtue of civility.

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In Australia we’ve seen an endless slide to public derision, insult and abuse from all levels, perhaps typified lately by two parliamentary senators going head to head in a very public spat involving name calling and slurs that may end up in court. We’ve also seen some tardy commentary in the media itself with an ex sporting star sacked from a popular radio show for disrespectful language and also the TV industry awards televised this year which controversially will be remembered for anti-gay slurs and remarks regarding the industry award winner.

The problem is that these days we place a premium on personal freedom and autonomy. We want to make our own decisions and do whatever we want, whenever we choose — and bad luck for what anyone else wants. The person on the tram talking loudly on the phone, taking up two seats and also with their feet on the seat opposite them. The teenagers riding their bikes on the footpath who career straight at you unless you get out of the way – no way will they ride around you or heaven forbid, on the road. The person that pushed in front of you in the supermarket queue as if it was their right and for me personally, the person that kicked the back of my seat on a recent flight from Sydney who told me to go fu*% myself when I asked him to stop.

 Here's a modern phenomenon. despite plenty of parking, just pull up wherever you like whilst you wait for your able-bodied teenager to run into the shop. Stuff the road rules or the traffic chaos, anything I'm doing is more important than what anyone else is doing. (PS. A daily event on Bay Street, Port Melbourne)

Here's a modern phenomenon. despite plenty of parking, just pull up wherever you like whilst you wait for your able-bodied teenager to run into the shop. Stuff the road rules or the traffic chaos, anything I'm doing is more important than what anyone else is doing. (PS. A daily event on Bay Street, Port Melbourne)

Every time I (and I’m guessing many other people) leave home, this is a snapshot of the verbal, psychological and sometimes physical combat we encounter every day. Some days more notable than others but if you take note, it is constant. Hence, I believe, when the day is done and people retire to the quiet safety of their own home – they stay there.

A “loneliness crisis” is sweeping through the nation with statistics revealing that most Australians have half the number of close friends they did a decade ago. According to a survey of 1200 Australians taken this June by survey group OmniPoll, people on average have 3.9 close friends nowadays, as opposed to 6.4 in 2005.

This mirrors recent data published regarding similar US surveys. One theory revolves around the intrusion or adoption of technology into our lives. We’re spending more time on our screens, gaming, social media, or even bringing work home with us, which all means there is less time for social interaction.

My theory, not discounting the technology theory - is that we can control our surroundings at home. No one is kicking your seat whilst you’re watching Netflix, so why go to the movies? No one pushes in front of you whilst you’re cooking or serving dinner, or perhaps waiting for your Uber Eats to arrive, so why eat out? And the couch is definitely more relaxing than trying to drive over to a friend’s house in traffic that’s tailgating behind and erratic in front. The list goes on.

So, whilst Australia thinks it has a civility problem and a loneliness crisis I can’t but help think that the two are feeding each other.

I’ll pour another wine here at home whilst I relax on the couch and ponder this further.