Mean it when we say Happy Christmas

Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings.
Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings.

As we head towards the season of goodwill it’s worth thinking about how much we might need it.

One of the features of the last few years has been the breakdown in civility in so many areas of our life together.

Police at the scene. Picture: SY Citizen Journalism

Police at the scene. Picture: SY Citizen Journalism

We used to pride ourselves as a nation on the fact that while we might disagree on many things we always expressed our comments about those with whom we disagreed in a civilised and respectful manner.

Well, not any more, it seems.

I am sometimes quite shocked at the way people talk about others in the most disrespectful terms.

And these can be people at every level of society and sometimes people in positions of power and influence.

And not just in the UK.

Hillary Clinton called people who voted for Donald Trump ‘deplorables’. But then his language about her was equally disrespectful.

In a letter I read recently in a newspaper, someone described officials of the European Union as ‘scum’.

I was taken aback at a public meeting when I heard people speaking about the police in similar terms.

Yet these are the very people they would be relying on if they were involved in a road traffic collision or one of their relatives went missing.

Being abusive seems to be a trend that social media amplifies.

Why does all this matter?

There is one very good reason.

Learning to be civil in the way we speak about others and their opinions will in turn lead us to be respectful in the way we behave towards them.

There is a great deal of crime – assaults, for example – that begin with disrespectful speech and end in criminal behaviour.

They begin small and end big. Little words of abuse that culminate in violent actions.

We saw this happen at the time of the Referendum on whether we should leave the European Union.

There was a lot of disrespectful talk about foreigners and immigrants that ended in crimes.

There was a spike in crime as verbal abuse led to physical assaults.

We surely do not want that to happen again as we get nearer to the date of withdrawal next year.

So perhaps we can all use the season of goodwill to practice a bit more civility towards one another.

We can make it part of what we mean by saying Happy Christmas.

Dr Alan Billings is the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire and writes a regular column for The Star .