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WAMC will broadcast a special radio series that will take an in-depth look at civility in public discourse over three consecutive days, June 16th, 17th and 18th, between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on WAMC’s morning radio program, The Roundtable. This series will ask the questions: What is happening with civil discourse in America? Is incivility in government and in the public square becoming the new norm? Is a breakdown in communication threatening democracy? Are stalemates and political posturing standing in the way of achieving resolutions, problem solving, and finding common ground? Does civility matter? Are name calling and incivility just “sticks and stones” that are part of the process or does the process get hurt by them? Across the U.S., these questions are at the heart of the discussion about the current state of incivility in America, which has risen to crisis level.

Agreeing to Disagree - Mason Square Library In Springfield

Springfield City Library

What has happened to civility in our country?  Conversations with people at the Mason Square Library in Springfield, Massachusetts reveal displeasure over how we interact with one another today and uncertainty over whether we can become more civil in the future. 

Over time, it seems the face-to-face has become in-your-face.

Mattie Jenkins says when she was growing up more than a half-century ago people were more respectful and kind.

" I think it is the culture. A lot of young mothers have a different philosophy than when I raised my children. I think we should also sit down at the table and eat together. Technology today is taking away from the family orientation."

Several people said they see a connection between technology changing how we communicate and a decline in civility.

" Instead of going to meet someone we do it with a text, or email. Civilty is not something that is a main priority because of the technological advances," said  Dominique Walker, a college senior home in Springfield for the summer.

" There was a shooting outside my home a couple days ago. Just thinking about that and civility what makes someone want to resort to that kind of violence?"

Frankie Vasquez, another young person, also sees a lack of civility fueling street violence.

" I read in the newspaper that something like four in ten people now carry a gun. I wish we could shut that down."

Jasmine Delgado said anger and frustration about the economy and rising poverty rates have contributed to incivility.

" I think there is a lot of anger directed at Washington. It has a lot to do with politics. Obama has not delivered on some promises, and so I think it ( civility) has a lot to do with politics."

When it comes to the future and that question of  “Can we all just get along?” Shonica Frater has her doubts.

" I think we can be more civil, but now days with the internet and arguments I am not sure."

Robin Stamps-Jones, who has raised eight children, said parents need to teach their children to be civil.

" Lead by example. I try to be civil, kind, nice, I try to share that person I am with my family."

Delgado, a young mother, agrees.

" Just be more involved with children. Give them a lot of love. That's what I do with my daughter. I bring her to the library."

Roger Walker says people need to look within themselves if they want to be more civil to others.

" You have to have peace inside first. You have to love yourself first to interact with other people."

Mattie Jenkins hopes we can find common ground.

" We all should think we are all the same. We are all human. We all need to be kind to each other. Together  we stand, divided we fall. We should all be together as one."

Agreeing to Disagree: Civility in Public Discourse is funded in part by MASS Humanities.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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