Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Are We Living in Vulgar Times?

Photo by Salt Water New England
​Are we living in vulgar times?  What do we give up when we increasingly back away from civility and decorum?

In the ethos of “think globally, act locally,” how do we move the pendulum back a bit, if desired?

Or is this cycle natural and inevitable?  As long as there have been group photographs, there have been people angling to be in the center of every one.  Aspirational vulgarity is nothing new.  And one of Oscar Wilde's most famous descriptions was after all, although perhaps from another vulgar time, “She is a peacock in everything but beauty.”

83 comments:

  1. While the impulse has always existed, I don't think its ever be so widely *celebrated*; as Harold Bloom suggested, our time might be characterized as the "emancipation of selfishness". I'm struck -- rather, irked -- on my morning walk by the 'new-age' aphorism painted on the glass window of a yoga studio: "Never dim your light just to make others feel comfortable." Is not such 'dimming' the sine qua non of a civilized society?

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  2. There is no correlation between money and taste...

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  3. The photograph alone answers the musing.

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  4. I'm in the process of lobbying for an updated communications policy within my town government to hopefully promote more civility. The current policy was written pre-social media. I have always been active locally. One of the joys of living in a relatively small New England town is the sense of shared community.

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    1. As a New Yorker, that must be quite striking to you.

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    2. It certainly was when I first moved here many years ago! I quickly learned that when I honked my horn that it was thought that I was saying hello, and people would wave at me! I also learned that if I honked in a prolonged manner at someone, chances were good that we would meet again sometime. Like they would be the interviewer for the job I was seeking. True story in the late 1980s. :D

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  5. Society, as far as I can tell, is more crass, crude, common, tawdry, gross, and (ostentatiously) vulgar than ever before. Except behind one's own closed drawbridge, I'm not sure if it is possible to push the pendulum in the other direction.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke

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  6. Someone once commented to me that if we brought back dueling it sure would improve manners and civility. It made me laugh and then think on the decline of civility, which is a large dose of self restraint.

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  7. Simply put - yes! Common courtesy, simple manners, grace, and kindness have left the room. I refuse to fall into the gutter. cheers!

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  8. I think that historically there is an ebb and flow to vulgarity, which ends up in a snap back to being more conservative. Any time we lose ourselves, the masses put us back in check. You can see this social ebb and flow throughout the 20th century, Victorian stuffiness/Flappers/Wartime austerity/Post-war excess.

    Sometimes the flow is a little stronger, like when a vast amount of people are exposed to faulty manners (See: social media)
    But I do believe in what goes around, comes around.

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    1. Nailed it. The pendulum swings in both directions. Society will try to moderate to the center by pushing too hard to the other side. The examples above perfectly illustrate the alternating periods of liberalism and conservatism. And not just in politics. Once vulgarity becomes too common, society will rebel and decorum will be the new standard.

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    2. Selfishness is the cause of so many weaknesses. I don't think that it is a matter of being more or less conservative.

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  9. Ah! the Bitcoin unwashed masses!

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  10. Yes, without a doubt. While WASP culture had its faults, we could use a little of it now.

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  11. Yes. Agree with scotmiss...it seems that simple manners are just not taught anymore. I'm not talking about which fork to use when but just simple, basic manners. Vulgarity is so commonplace that it's almost become benign...almost. I also refuse to fall into the gutter.

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  12. We see media (the M word) rewarding plain bad behavior/role models by providing the people involved with celebrity status/validation and even a livelihood; drawing an equation between sensationalism and noteworthiness. Leading by example is just that. People feel that an argument means you out-shout the other person; glamour for women means surgically enhanced everything; a beautiful home is square footage, ostentation has aspirational value, etc. We have so many images, sound bites, photo ops, of this - and with commerce riding the wave of subliminal messages, our goose is cooked, even if we aren't interested in goose. While I do not consider myself a conservative or hold strong religious views that dictate morality, I truly understand why people would want to control thoughts/behaviors according to some doctrine - against the onslaught taking place by the nanosecond. One might say we should know better, but even if you are only aware of a tiny bit of lay neuroscience from a PBS program, you understand the formative influence. Will the pendulum swing back? Only if we have very strong prominent role models - grassroots may maintain, but top down makes for change. It's a brave new world. There is a theory that what makes preppiness so popular is nostalgia for "traditional" values; outwardly what the clothes signify is being part of a elite group defined by decorum.

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  13. We raised our two sons to be have manners, be polite, help others when needed and be gentlemen to the Nth degree. A couple years ago our younger son held the door for a lady leaving a store in Philly. She turned around and handed him a dollar. He ,of course. refused and basically said to enjoy her day.

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  14. I think it goes way, way beyond manners.

    A non-WASP, non-Christian, non-Jewish, non-Muslim idea:

    May you be safe
    May you be healthy
    May you be happy, and
    May you live your life with ease.

    Extended with earnest compassion not only to those we love, but to those we find especially challenging and difficult. In it’s best rendition, these sentiments are extended to all sentient beings everywhere.

    Science is beginning to see intelligence about our emotions and even developing and applying such tender, epicene emotions like compassion as critical for modern success and achievement.

    Is this a pendulum swing? Who knows. Vulgarity makes the vulgarian appear manly and powerful, but only to themselves. To the rest of us, they just look foolish, very immature, and feeble.

    Aiken

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    1. "Manly?" What about vulgar women, of which there is no shortage today?

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  15. You could have bought yourself 157 feet of vulgarity for $16,500,000. Name aside, it's not the most hideous mega yacht I've ever seen.

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    1. I can think of many things I'd enjoy with an extra $16.5 mil or so. One hundred and fifty-seven feet of vulgarity isn't even remotely one of them.

      You do realize that it's $105,000 a foot! There must be multiple gold toilets and cabin staff to flush them.

      Aiken

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  16. Every age and every place has it's vulgarity. The ancients railed against it almost to a man.as to taste,we only enjoy looking looking at Chippendale because of the patina of time,it was considered by many as gauche in it's day. Manners serve little purpose without underlying magnanimity or the potential of violence.
    That all being said,we could all use a reread of Emily Post from time to time.

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  17. The other day I stood in line at the grocery store. The cashier wore a cast on her right arm. She rang the order in front of mine - and bagged it. The “man” who bought the groceries complimented the cashier on her ability to bag the order, even with an injured arm. Imagine. Men reading this, start with simple things. Bag your own orders at the grocery store. Thank you.

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. Our brains and physical nature aren't wired to handle the technical invasion we see today. As a result much (not all) of the younger generations are turning into soulless creations w/ zero respect for social norms. Instead humankind was met for NATURE, FRESH AIR, SUNSHINE, PHYSICAL HARD LABOR, ETC.
    Society's pendulum has always swung back & forth w/ natural ebbs & flows for millennium, but there's nothing natural about technology overrunning our minds.

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  20. The unhealthy obsession with 'famous for being famous' celebrities and the super rich has only been magnified with the explosion of social media. Now, everyone can be a celebrity in their own little way, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. This has bred a self-centred and showy generation of poseurs who want you to know just how good they think they've got it.

    Years ago, there was a dignity in fame, fortune and achievement. People who had it knew they were very fortunate to have it and acted appropriately. Nowadays they want to wave it in front of you, shout out how good it is, then shove it in your face.

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    1. Yes, though years ago fame was defined differently. I recall playing in a pee wee hockey game at a club in lower Fairfield county Conn. A well dressed black man smiled at me from behind the boards moments before a face-off. I smiled back. The ref dropped the puck... On the ride home the parent behind the wheel said, “someone important was there tonight.” Not famous, “important.” It was Jackie Robinson. How many of today’s “famous” might be labeled as “important?”

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    2. Absolutely! Couldn’t agree more with this. I use social media to promote my book, which covers the topics of civility, grace and dignity. It’s an interesting place that’s for sure. I call it my “battlefield”. Everybody wants to “be somebody”. I wonder what spawned it? MTV?

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    3. Very, very few.

      Heinz-Ulrich von B.

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    4. Very well said, Mad.

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  21. I am not surprised that nobody has mentioned religion, or rather, its decline, as the reason for our flood tide of vulgarity. Even sensible commentators have forgotten when most of us went to service, be it Christian or Jewish, at least once a week. All of us have forgotten St. Francis. He taught: "I can't be humiliated as I am already humble". Nobody is humble as it is seen as weakness when indeed it was Christ's strength. Just sayin...

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    1. There were complaints exactly like this in books written two hundred years before St. Francis was born. "What is more tiring in this life than to be on fire with earthly desires?"

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    2. I love going to church every week.

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    3. I received a reader review last month that went a little like this.... “I was LOVING this book, until it mentioned the Ten Commandments. I stopped reading it immediately. Books that mention religion should come with a warning”.

      I despair.

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    4. I'm not sure that attending church precludes vulgarity. In this age of megachurches that feature social media photo op backgrounds, I'd say that vulgarity and religion often go hand in hand.

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    5. Emily - well that I agree with! Megachurches are a different kettle of fish. Great for bringing people to Christ, but not necessarily for taking them out of the “world”.

      Humility is now so often considered a dirty word.

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    6. Frankly, a direct line between the rise of evangelical "christianity" in the United States and the increase in the vulgarity of the times in which we live can easily be drawn.

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  22. I had to excuse myself from Facebook and the like when I experienced old friends calling each other terrible things for political views held. Once was the day when people considered their politics to be private and believed others had a right to their own private views. I work in a large office building and it is only the much older men who wait for me to get on to the elevator. The younger men - even those in the military! - step right on to the elevator in front of me. Only a few years ago, I fell on the sidewalk and three men walked right past me without even considering helping me. We had a young intern in the office once who thought that one of the older partners was "phony" for all of his manners, niceties, proper grammar, and restraint. She wondered what he really wanted when he held the door for her...?! And finally, I went on a blind date with a doctor who at the end of the night refused to walk me to my car, even after I asked him to, informing me it was too cold out. I assumed he didn't care for me and that was why, but he asked me out again for the next weekend. I declined to tell him why I said no.

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    1. I sprained my knee and was using a cane when I was approaching a door to a store. A young, male, blue-collared worker rushed up, grab the door and said, "Please, after you. Perhaps, your people are simply too educated to have manners. In some circles, it's really not the thing.

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  23. My father would always say "Great people know who they are...they don't have to prove it to anybody "

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    1. Amen, 8:13! I am sooooooo tired of being subjected to the frantic "virtue-signalling" of every social climber on earth!

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  24. Anonymous at 6:07 a.m. I also find it interesting that so few people have referenced religion/a decline in religious participation as a factor. Aiken's metta/loving kindness meditation is the exception.

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    1. That wasn't religion. It was just an expression of compassion. In my view, religion separates us into groups where we naturally find fault with others while finding no fault with us. Conflict inevitably ensues.

      Aiken

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  25. Thank you for this column and this topic, Muffy!
    I feel like I'm NOT losing my mind (and patience).
    Suzanne

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  26. To the commentators that are referring to others who didn't mention religion as an excuse for society's current state of affairs. I'd like to politely defend myself (and possibly others), by saying my parents taught me as a child that it's improper manners to discuss politics, religion and money in mixed company. Hence the reason it was eliminated from my first post. But now that you mention it, I 100% agree that the decline of religion equals the decline of Western Civilization. Today's narcissistic society is proof how much we need God in our lives. I 100% agree w/ Averyl, I love going to my Methodist Church and have been doing so since 1951.

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  27. Dear Anonymous April 5th @ 10:49 am: If you look at TRUE Christianity (and take out the religion); it's all about love and forgiveness. There should be no separation and finding fault in others. But alas, we are mere humans and make mistakes. This is why we need God.

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    1. Oh Millicent, for God's sake.

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  28. What do we give up when we increasingly back away from civility and decorum? The ability to agree to disagree.

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    1. Millicent, for someone who appears obsessed with "civility and decorum," you and others have turned this thread into an uncomfortable, even slightly vulgar, one with by going on and on about Christianity and God religion. Do you know what "infra dig" means? Google is your friend.

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    2. Can we not disagree without being disagreeable?

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  29. The reason we need God in our lives is, He provided society with moral absolutes upon which (at one time) pretty much everybody agreed. Right up until the present age of "Me First," very few have ever mounted a convincing argument against the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule.

    Regardless of tradition, most "Olde-Tyme Religions" were truly grounded in Natural Law; bad life decisions get you bad life results. We have forgotten this in the age of glorifying bad behavior as if it had no consequences, where people fancy a "right" to equal outcomes, and Every Child Gets a Trophy. In truth,"Karma" is merely the impersonal, inevitable, equal-and-opposite reaction of the Universe to our actions in the world.

    In Shingon Buddhism it's said that we create our own Reality through actions of "body, speech, and mind." Think about that for a minute--our actions, our words and our thought processes, the ways we perceive and process every bit of life becomes, indeed, the Reality we live in. Might make one a little more mindful of the process, eh? ;-)

    This is not that different from certain Masonic ideas about the Nature of God.

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    1. Good heavens, all we need is a sweaty revival tent and you people can start carrying on, and chanting, and handling serpents, and getting "filled with the spirit," and jittering all over the page. Thank God for Episcopalians—they'd rather die than carry on like this in public.

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    2. Dear Anonymous April 5, 2018 @ 7:13 pm: I appreciate your wisdom.

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  30. Karma is defined as " actions".

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  31. Not an oposite reaction.
    If you eat too much, you get a stomach ache. Your action ( karma) is eating to much.

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  32. One must remember, while one's actions create one's own reality, that may or may not be inclusive of others. One has freedom to live in a personal vegan reality, or progressive reality, or Christian, Muslim, Rastafarian, what have you. But not to impose it on others who do not share it. That may be the tragedy of the young woman who shot up YouTube this week--the wider world refused to conform to her extreme beliefs, and that self-centeredness ultimately unhinged her. It is also well to remember that a certain stripe of elite "compassion" looks an awful lot like condescension to many.

    We are in a strange cultural moment where, in our earnest haste to "empower" those who might have been disenfranchised in past times, we are pretending that all ideas, arts, and subcultures have moral equivalence and equal merit. That is not necessarily so; bad English is not the Queen's grammar, glorifying murder in the name of God must be denounced, and we'll learn nothing from the past if we throw statues of Thomas Jefferson down Orwell's "memory hole." A great many ideas are flying like bats out of various belfries at our universities; they should be debated on their merits, rigorously, not crammed down the culture's throat as political correctness. Some Utopian fantasies are just plain unworkable in the "real" world; particularly when they have applied to no species living on this planet, ever!

    To keep the "vulgarity" at bay, just practice a little mental hygiene. Just as you would not eat 5-day-old gas station sushi, moldy bread or sour milk, don't dwell on the sensational, tawdry, dishonest, shallow and fake. Most Americans enjoy a higher standard of living today than kings and sultans experienced even a hundred years ago; why dwell on the negative? We live in WONDROUS times!

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  33. We absolutely are living in vulgar times. I recall asking my parents who they voted for sometime around 1991 (local election), to which my mother patiently answered she would tell me, but it’s not polite to ask, nor is it polite to tell anyone else who had her vote.

    I am doing my best to rise above the fray. I quit Facebook last year because of the abhorrent behavior of so many “friends.” I wasn’t active to begin with, but the environment was extremely negative and I had no intention of being part of it.
    The best I can do is behave politely, civilly and show my children how they should deal with people. It’s something we work on every day. From saying good morning to the staff at their school to keeping a level head when someone is rude to choosing to keep my mouth shut when I really want to say what I think about something. Restraint is underrated, and I want my kids to know they don’t have to sink to someone else’s level. Nor, do they have to vocalize every thought that enters their heads.
    Change starts with each of us and we have to teach the next generation how to behave. That’s our best bet to regain civility.

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    1. Yes, yes, yes!

      Best Regards,

      Heinz-Ulrich von B.

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    2. Yes...very well said Anon at 10:15pm.

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    3. Dear Anonymous April 5, 2018 @ 10:15 pm: Your comment is a common sense breath of fresh air!

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    4. Heinz, Anonymous and Millicent - Thank you!

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  34. George Will, a real conservative, said the vulgarians are at the gates.

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    1. The liberal perspective: Just at the gates? Bloody hell, they've invaded the house!

      Aiken

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  35. When the pipes have broken and the house is flooding, do you complain that the plumber is not wearing Burberry and declaiming poetically in Latin? Or are you just happy he knows how to use a wrench, which is more than you do?

    George Will and friends STILL don't "get it!"

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    1. Is that what you think civility and decorum is? "Wearing Burberry and declaiming poetically in Latin?" Good grief.

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  36. I truly do not understand the conservative vs liberal twist to this issue. To be quite blunt that in itself is rather vulgar.
    Love and compassion for all people has nothing to do with labels. It just seems that it is lacking from most people living in the world at this moment.

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  37. To Anon. 1:14: There's an old New England saying: Love thy neighbor, but don't tear down thy fence." Let's face it, most of us are not exactly brimming over with "love and compassion" for other people every minute of every day unless they are deluding themselves or overdosing their Prozac--for most of us, we respect society's ordinary boundaries and prefer they not be crossed. The itch we are scratching in this very thread is our sense that the lines of those boundaries are changing daily almost beyond recognition, which means "no one knows how to behave any more" at the same time disproportionate offense and unpredictable outrage have become fashionable attention-getters.

    A bunch of those love-and-compassion types were seen in action at a Town Meeting in Western CT last evening, concerning permitting a medical marijuana dispensary. The "love and compassion" exhibited toward their neighbors, including the desperately ill, became so extreme a police officer was quickly invited to the front of the room to remind these people of their manners. Half these people are the sanctimonious twits who post "Hate Has No Home Here" signs at the end of their driveways.

    Meanwhile, out here in the Real World, all many of us really want is the right to be left alone.

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    1. Well said.

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    2. Robert Frost's "Mending Wall".... Good fences make good neighbors"

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    3. Something there is that doesn't love a wall. We don't want our apple trees comingling with our neighbor's apple trees.

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  38. Yes it certainly should be everyone's right to be left alone. It is however one of the reasons that our world is they way it is.

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    1. What is? "Our world" is arguably "the way it is" because people can't goddam well leave anyone else alone.

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  39. Try catching the Frasier episode "High Crane Drifter" the next time it airs. I'd suggest YouTube for clips but just to find them you'd be confronted with vulgarity. The Frasier episode really points out how difficult it is to be the perfectly polite person all the time.

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  40. I believe unquestioningly in politeness and courtesy toward everyone, regardless of station, under all normal circumstances. However, there are times when lines are crossed, entitlement behaviors so egregious that the only response possible is, at least, the Dry Ice Freeze. Random strangers do NOT have a right to yell at your dogs, climb your fences, demand to know your financial status or anything else we normally consider "private property," physical or intangible. Trouble is, nowadays many literally don't seem to know any better--even after you explain it.

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    1. Yep. Excellent point(s). The dry ice freeze indeed has its uses.

      Best Regards,

      Heinz-Ulrich

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  41. Attending school in a conservative state with liberal professors, I learned to smile and keep my mouth shut in political discussions. It was probably the most important thing that I learned. Thank you for "High Crane Drifter".

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  42. Vulgarity is present in every era in history and can be found in every social stratum. I'd like to think it's a little less evident in New England, but there are exceptions to every rule. It's a fascinating subject, well worth discussion, but I fear there's little we can do about it aside from setting an example for our children.

    As luck would have it, I did not become a parent until later in life when I was aware that every statement I made, every opinion I uttered, every example I set, would be observed, calculated, even emulated. By the time my son was born, I was aware of many of my own character defects and had made an effort to suppress, if not eliminate, them. I can't say I was entirely successful, but I surely didn't want my most blatant imperfections to be my legacy.

    I first began to notice my son's kindness towards others by the time he was six years old. It filled me with pride, which I shared only with him and his mother. Now that he is in his early thirties, nothing has changed. My son has grown up to be a decent man, thoughtful, humble, kind, generous. I can say the same of his circle of friends. Perhaps conscious parenting may not cure all of society's ills, but I believe if we wallow in vulgarity, we raise children to be vulgar adults. And I venture to guess the exact opposite is true.

    MGC

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    1. Many, many of us wish you would comment far more than you do, MGC. Welcome back.

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    2. Count me among the many. Excellent comment, MGC.

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    3. Courage beautifully expressed.

      Aiken

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  43. When I'd read the new comments being posted, I kept finding myself saying, "...but what would Bitsy say?" I just read her delightful comments on other subjects so now maybe she'll share her thoughts on this popular post.

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    1. To Anonymous who posted on April 8 at 3:57: Thank you for the kind words. As for the topic at hand, I shall quote St. Augustine: 'Let us live well, and times shall be good. As we are, such are the times.'

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