In 2008, when Hartford was plagued by a series of brazen, violent incidents, I talked about our lost moral compass, sparking a local and national debate about apathy and caring in our society.
Society's lack of civility and our indifference toward one another's feelings has again become the topic of the national discourse. Recently, we witnessed U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson publicly disrespecting our commander in chief, President Barack Obama, tennis star Serena Williams' tirade toward a U.S. Open line judge, and Kanye West's arrogance and disrespect to teen singer Taylor Swift during a nationally televised awards show.
Pop culture and the paparazzi have made the indiscretions of sports figures, entertainers and our public leaders — supposedly our nation's role models — a national news sport. And, the hosts of highly rated 24/7 cable and syndicated television shows applaud so-called experts who bark at and belittle people. These shows thrive on participants physically abusing and verbally insulting each other. The success of this kind of show has many asking if maybe a lost moral compass is exactly what plagues us as a society.
For too many, this boorish behavior has become entertainment and, I believe, when such behavior is considered OK, other social boundaries become blurred. If it is acceptable to disrespect each other, and if we see entertainment value in watching people verbally or physically attacking one another, other things are just as easily justified.
So what if someone cannot bother obeying traffic laws, blasts their stereo all night, litters throughout our community? Who cares if children yell and curse at their parents or teachers? Who cares when an elderly neighbor forgets to lock his door and ends up getting robbed?
So what if individuals resort to violence to resolve their arguments? Why use reason and communication to resolve conflicts when you can use a weapon?
Just as broken windows and other signs of blight can lead to crime, so too can our acceptance of rude and disrespectful behavior. It's like a broken window of the human spirit.
Like most untreated viruses, these ugly sentiments spread, grow and fester. We become a society that no longer sees our neighbor as ourselves and no longer sees ourselves as a community that must work together to thrive and prosper.
Recently a friend gave me a book titled "Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments" by Kent M. Keith. His theory is really nothing new: "Society has become fixated on acquiring things and money, and less concerned with bonding with people or establishing meaningful connections." However, it takes trying times for us to realize the importance of our relationships and of society.
Eight years ago, on 9/11, we came together and realized how much we meant to each other and how, as a society, we are truly interdependent. We learned the precious value of human life. We learned about sacrifice through the actions of our emergency personnel, who are committed to public service, positive relationships and public safety. And, we learned about respect and compassion for each other.
I recently came across the website www.civilityproject.org. I encourage you to visit it and consider this organization's pledge: "I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior. I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them. I will stand against incivility when I see it."
The challenge for us today is to never forget lessons of the past, and to live each day as caring individuals, respectful of each other as we travel through life together — not because we have to, but because it is the right thing to do and the right way to behave.
•Daryl K. Roberts is Hartford's chief of police.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at