Whether it's the nasty economic climate, the decline in the nation's position as undisputed economic leader, the hot, dry summer; the mean-spiritedness the Internet has visited upon the world through the rise of anonymous commenting -- or the open question of what America should be in the 21st century, uncivil behavior seems far more common today than in the recent past.
That's why it's encouraging to see a citizen group in Shaftsbury forming with the aim of promoting polite, civil discussion at town board meetings. Often in recent years, divisive issues have split the community into hostile camps, and resentments that surfaced during meetings appeared to linger and resurface with the next big issue to come before town officials.
And, of course, Shaftsbury is far from alone in this regard. Pownal and Bennington, Arlington and Sunderland, Manchester and Woodford all have had some nasty dust-ups and emotional public meetings. All area towns have, along with their school districts. All communities everywhere, in fact.
The point is, can something be done to curb emotional reactions during public meetings, which, after all, are not solely for the benefit of those closely involved in a particular hot issue but represent participatory democracy for all town residents. The topic is, by definition, community business.
The new group, Citizens Advocating Responsibility and Equality in Shaftsbury (CARES), seeks a resolution from the Select Board that calls for the promotion of civility at meetings. Board Chairman Lon McClintock said he would try to get the resolution on the board's agenda by September. That should be an interesting discussion, and we hope a civil one.
Art Whitman, a group member, told reporter Keith Whitcomb Jr. that members plan to attend various meetings and remind people of the resolution, if it is adopted. He said the group does not intend to take stands on issues. He added that it was the heated discussions surrounding a proposed commercial composting facility last year that provided the impetus to form CARES.
The truth is, such a group might prove beneficial in every town, whether organized or informal. Most people are civil to those they disagree with during public meetings, and they shouldn't have to put up with displays of temperament or excessive criticism from a few.
The same is true concerning state and federal government functions, despite the negative influence unleashed by constant anonymous or distant nasty criticism and ranting many who take a stand endure on the Internet. Incivility is a problem everyone has to deal with today, and this group is making the effort to change that.