BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
After Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was severely wounded in a shooting rampage in January, it seemed that everyone was giving lip service to the return of civility in politics -- the idea that people with differing points of view should be able to defend their beliefs without eviscerating opponents through harsh language and violent imagery.
But it has become clear that not only does our nation have little shared understanding of what civility is -- let's keep it simple and call it respect through courtesy and politeness -- but there isn't a snowball's chance, if you get my drift, that we'll ever be able to pass it on to the next generation.
Where is this all coming from? My family and I got F-bombed the other day.
It wasn't an angry situation. The perpetrator – an adult woman working the cash register at a family-friendly fast-food restaurant -- was very polite as she took our order. Her bracelet, though, one of those thick rubber bands stamped with all manner of marketing and social consciousness messages, had a different agenda.
In large red letters on a perfectly contrasting background, the message was easily legible: "F--- off."
When I mentioned to her manager that the employee's bracelet was inappropriate, I received no apology, just a statement of inculpability. When the manager asked her to take the bracelet off, she did so wide-eyed, looking slightly embarrassed and said, "Oh, I didn't know."
I believed her.
The F-word just isn't what it used to be -- it's on T-shirts, bracelets and ball caps. Not only is it littered throughout movies that are rated as strictly for adults, it has made great inroads into films with a PG-13 rating. Even G-rated movies routinely use some words that might have elicited a soapy mouth-washing in a different time.
Not that this was our first F-bomb, and movies certainly aren't the only place to hear profanity, sex talk, zealous religious or political opinions, or anything else our grandparents might have whacked us across the head for speaking aloud in public. If you're in a grocery checkout line, fancy or fast-food restaurant, school cafeteria, sporting event, or outside at a nature sanctuary -- you will get an earful.
Singles, couples or groups, it makes no difference. Anyone with a cellphone is capable of broadcasting private thoughts, loudly, with a complete lack of awareness of his or her surroundings.
But awareness isn't the problem. Too many people of all ages just aren't interested in restraining their mouths, or their clothes' messages, around anyone. They are so self-absorbed that they either don't care how their blunt words affect others or value only their inflated sense of the constitutionally protected right to free speech and what they believe it gives them free rein to do or say.
Try to explain this to someone who doesn't understand what courtesy or politeness is all about and things will get uncivil on you in a heartbeat.
Esther J. Cepeda's e-mail address is estherjcepeda(at)washpost.com