Is Civility and Human Kindness Dead?

May 4, 2010

I wonder what it is that makes some people so mean and cruel? I am not talking about terrorists or some convicted criminals, but every day, ordinary folks who act or speak in hurtful and mean spirited ways. Is there something about human nature that makes people hurt others, spread lies and say mean and ugly things about them? I just don’t get it. I am certainly not a perfect person and have had my moments but I try to live and let live. I strive to be positive and support others. Sure, there are plenty of people that I don’t care for and whom I dislike, but I don’t purposely set out to hurt them.  It is the purposefulness of the hateful behavior that disturbs me.

It is as if civility and human kindness are dying, if they are not already dead. The lack of both is demonstrated daily by politicians, CEO’s of Corporate America, professional athletes and celebrities. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me when ordinary people follow suit. There seems to be a need in some folks to bring others down and destroy them for personal gain. And when you are the victim of this type of campaign it is hurtful and depressing. I have seen the pain in friends, colleagues and the people I work with. And I have felt it myself. Sadly, there is almost nothing you can do to protect yourself or your reputation. Often, the best you can do is turn the other cheek and refuse to respond in kind.

Maybe the worst part is that some people seem to enjoy hurting others and actively set out to do so. They take joy from their cruel acts and words and laugh about their behavior with their friends. If you aren’t a member of their “club,” “inner circle,” or “organization,” you are seen as an enemy that needs to be destroyed. And if they don’t act and you succeed, the belief is that you will take away from them, or somehow diminish their own success. Isn’t it possible for all of us to succeed and be fulfilled by our individual endeavors? Why must some act to destroy others? What are they afraid of? What would happen if we supported and encouraged each other?

Perhaps we can all grow and become better human beings by reversing roles with and walking in the shoes of those we attack, speak unkindly of and treat inhumanely. Imagine what the world would look like if more of us did this. What have we got to loose?


  1. Civility and human kindness are certainly in short supply, though, human history demonstrates that they have always been in short supply. The only differenc is, now, thanks to a saturation of media content, we hear about the worst in people more frequently.

    However, on a side note, advances in technology has made it easier to demonstrated a lack of these qualities (Breaking up via text message is a prime example)



    Hi, Gerry-

    On the one hand, I am deeply thankful for all that you and everyone else involved with TLC has done to help me grow by quantum leaps as a person and lawyer, and this journey with other TLC folks continues. .

    On the other hand, the Trial Lawyers College that existed when I attended in 1995 has been excessively supplanted by institutionalization, corporatization, and ivorytowerism. If that were not the case, then why – by their silence on the topic — has there apparently been a concerted decision by the current TLC board and executive committee that it is better to remain silent on such issues as the purge of Fredi Sisson as a staffmember (after her purge with others as a Board member) — apparently in the view that any response from the TLC leadership will just persuade more people to come to the dissenting side, either as a result of the leadership’s response or as a result of the dissenters’ response thereto — than to answer TLC alumni dissenters head-on.

    Silence by the TLC Board and Executive Committee does nothing to change the alienation that I and so many other TLC alumni deeply feel over the direction that the TLC has taken.

    And now, we are asked in the attached message to give further funds to the TLC with continued Board/Executive Committee silence. The dissonance is deafening.

    Though I am a decades-long rabble rouser, I have tried my best to treat TLC as sacred before extending my rablerousing to the TLC, as well. It pains me that events have come to the point of my feeling the deep need to be communicating this message to you.

    Love, Jon


    JON KATZ, P.C.

    Attorney at Law
    Practicing criminal defense in MD, VA & DC
    (301) 495-7755, Silver Spring, MD
    (703) 917-6626, Tysons Corner, VA
    Criminal Defense Blog: http://katzjustice.com/Underdog

    From: Trial Lawyers College [mailto:email=triallawyerscollege.com@mcsv75.net] On Behalf Of Trial Lawyers College
    Sent: Wednesday, May 05, 2010 8:02 AM
    To: Jonathan L.
    Subject: Important message from Gerry Spence

    A message from Gerry Spence

    Gerry Spence


    Don’t read this if you can’t stand another request for money. But this one can strike out at the killer of all killers — the state.

    The most important work we do is the Death Penalty Seminar in which we teach brave lawyers who work for so little, with so little, how to beat the evil specter wearing the black hood and carrying the killing scythe. We cannot survive in a society in which the state becomes the licensed killer of its own citizens, which, in the end, reduces us all to killers since together we are the state.

    Public defenders have no money to attend our seminar. It will cost us about $1700 per student. My goal is to find twenty of our grads who will give a scholarship to twenty of these saints who are so despised by so many for the divine work that they do.

    Please send your check right away. The seminar will begin June 12 if we aren’t required to cancel it. Not much time. I will engrave your gift on my heart.



    Send your check to P. O. Box 943, Jackson, WY 83001 or contact Laurie at info@triallawyerscollege.com

    Call us at (307) 734-4430
    Forward this to a friend |

    Unsubscribe to the list

    TLC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that does not pay any of its legal-faculty staff, including Gerry Spence. TLC’s mission is to create better lawyers for the people and defenders of the accused against the corporate and government power structure.
    Trial Lawyers College

    Trial Lawyers College
    P. O. Box 943, Jackson, WY 83001
    O/ 307-734-4430 F/307-733-5248

    • If anyone had any doubts that Spence cares only about money simply needs to read his latest email to the alumni. TLC is all about MONEY! The board members (most of whom are white and wealthy) could easily pony up enough to pay for the death penalty seminar. Instead, they again reach their hands into the pockets of the poor lawyers, a majority of the alumni. I think it was Katelyn who said “The deeper the pocket the shorter the arms.” Spence and his hand selected board sure have short arms.

    • I wonder if Jon got an answer from Spence. Oh yeah, Jon was commenting on Spence and the TLC Board’s silence. How could we so easily forget – they don’t comment on or answer the “little people’s questions.” But they are more than happy to take our money. Imagine the collective net worth of the Board Members. How many zeros would there be in that number?

  3. What you are experiencing reminds me of something I heard in a group dynamics seminar. Triangulation is often used by two members of a group (or two points of a triangle) to exclude another member of a group (or third point of the triangle.) It creates a false sense of intimacy between the two points and the feeling of power over and exclusion of the third party. It’s done under a perceived threat by the third point of the triangle and it reinforces and assures them of their bond. Seeing and recognizing this dynamic in action in the office or my personal world makes me feel better and I disengage from the battle.

    It’s disheartening that people feel the need to do this Joanne. It does reflect more about them than you.

  4. I agree with the sentiment of your post about the lack of civility. I can hardly watch the news anymore because all it is about is the fighting in DC between republicans and democrats. I understand most of them are lawyers. Maybe lawyers just like to fight and beat people up and tear people down. No wonder so many of us dislike lawyers. No one ever admit they were wrong or that they made a mistake. Anyway, all this fighting, tearing down of other people and being mean spirited is what is wrong with this country.

  5. It seems like the worst in people is coming out more and more everyday. Our world and our country are really a mess. It is pretty depressing. People don’t even smile at each other anymore or even say hello. Everyone is in their own world, only thinking about themselves. Pretty pathetic state of our society.

  6. I wonder, though, if taking the long view will demonstrate civility’s advancement over the hatred we see all around us. Granted, there is much hatred to witness, and I don’t mean to sound like a Pollyanna. Maybe it’s that I’ve been listening to a lot of Pema Chodron lately, as well as a lot of Joseph Campbell’s lectures with Michael Toms and it’s given me a lot of my heart back, allowing me to see the immense amount of goodwill that is being transmitted but which often gets overlooked, being sometimes less dramatic than the hate that is prevalent and often overshadowing.

    I don’t mean to criticize your viewpoint, as I often share it, only to pass along the beautiful wisdom I’ve received lately via Ms. Chodron, whose statement about wandering around in the dark and then having someone turn the lights on to reveal that you’re in a palace rings true for me lately, at least for today.

    Here’s one example. On the way to school, I’m telling my 16 year old about Jon Katz and how both he and I, thousands of miles apart, were inspired to go to NCDC by Don Fiedler. I then tell her that he represents the Rev. Fred Phelps, and she instantly recoils, knowing his name and hateful message from the days he spent demonstrating outside her school because Rent was presented by the drama department. When I explain that Jon’s love of free speech likely outweighed his hatred of his client’s message, she gave it some thought. When I inquired about how she was aware of Mr. Phelps message, she lamented about the message he delivered, the sheer meanness and hatred of it and the way the message of the one who brought us the beatitudes was corrupted into not justice for the merciful but hatred of the different. As we discussed it, however, she described the legacy that Mr. Phelps left at her high school, ironically a strong gay-straight alliance and widespread acceptance of the message, viewpoint and love that Mr. Phelps is seeking to destroy. Love turns out to be the winning argument after all, even in the face of the violence and hatred Mr. Phelps tries to spread.

    I hope this does not come off as if I’m lecturing you or minimizing your pain. I don’t mean to, but instead want to give you a message that I’ve recently received about the importance of taking the long view and realizing that while Phelps garners headlines and sickens us with examples of hate, more of his audience is being swayed by love than by hate, turning his message against itself. Let’s hope so, anyway. Otherwise, finding some friends who think like you do is at least a nice antidote to the hate we all suffer through every day. I enjoy your blog, hope you keep it up, and wish for the hate that’s been unfairly directed at you to be washed away by love.

    • Thank you so much David for your post. I appreciate your sentiments and share your optimism. I have gained a lot from reading Thich Naht Hanh and am on my own journey. Some days are easier than others but to me, it is a journey worth traveling. I am surrounded by love in so many places and am blessed with incredible friends and family. With them in my life, there is nothing I can’t get through. I am better and stronger for the struggle and the challenge.

      I have heard so much about the writings of Pema Chodron. Mary Peckham, a woman I admire immensely, introduced me to Thich and has spoken often of Pema. I will just have to get myself one of her books.

      I hope you are well and living fully. Thank you for your kindness, caring and support.

      • It’s funny that you mention Thich Naht Hanh, as I just picked up one of his audiobooks at the library this weekend, but haven’t listened to it yet. Great minds think alike I guess.

        I actually got started down the path toward these authors when I read a quote from of A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle on the listserve that was exactly what I needed to hear that day. And I first heard of being “in the moment” at the ranch, which was really brought home to me by the teachings of Fredi, so I have both of you to thank as well.

        My poetry teacher once said that the greater the capacity to feel joy the greater the capacity to feel pain. I know you’ve felt a lot of pain lately but I think your journey is due to lead to some well-deserved joy very soon. Take care.

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