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The death of decorum

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Jim Thompson

By Jim Thompson
HCP column

Decorum: “Behavior in keeping with good taste and propriety.”  

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “decorum” is used about once in every million uses of English words. Sadly, I couldn’t agree more. If there is one thing modern American society lacks, it is “decorum.” And this word captures many things wrong with today’s society.  

My best friend (he is 81) and I were talking the other day, and he said that when he was a kid, he thought our society was repressive. Now he thinks it has gone completely the other way – far too loose. He is a native of Ohio, too. He graduated from Coolville High School, over near Marietta and Belpre. How cool would it have been to graduate from Coolville High School? I digress.

Back to decorum. Decades ago, there were arguments as to whether television was shaping society or society was shaping television. At this late date, it is apparent to me that television shaped society. However, today this shaping has gone far beyond television and now includes everything we receive or place on our phones.

With the modern phone, we have all become photographers and movie producers. Except we have no censoring board and have clearly shown we are incapable of censoring ourselves.

Modern technology has outrun the idea of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech, to me, reflects our ability to express ideas and concepts. This has been distorted into showing us pictures and movies of anything anytime anywhere – movies and pictures you can’t unsee.

Many have a strong desire to draw attention to themselves. With modern technology, we have given them the ideas, means and implicit permission to do so. 

This has been going on for a long time now. For 40 or 50 years, we have lived in a society with an ignorance of decorum. This means most of the population has no idea what the word means or how it may apply to them.

It starts in homes with no filter on behavior. It continues in schools. Most teachers today likely have a limited sense of decorum. Then it spills out into general society.

Think about the behavior and words you hear at a Little League ball game – by both the kids and their parents.

I hate to go to graduation ceremonies any longer – and this has been my attitude for several decades. I find the yelling, screaming and general rowdiness to be appalling.  

When did it become acceptable to act as a barely contained rioter at these events?

Decorum. If you are so inspired, let’s start using this word more frequently and teach others what it means. 

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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Matthew (not verified)

22 June 2024

Mike McConnell on 700 WLW AM, pointed out one time, that HS proms and graduations are the highlights of most individuals' formative years in this region of the Country. But I agree with you. Do not disrupt the pomp and circumstances of a public ceremonial graduation... My HS graduation last century went well. More impactful to me was the graduation I had 11 months later on Parris Island, SC. It was extraordinary and orderly. The USMC is well- known for their discipline and decorum. History and reputation are also emphasized... I detest outbursts towards referees and umpires. Especially when the official is a teenager trying to call a 6- to 10-year-old ballgame. Bad calls should be pointed out for about 3 to 5 seconds, from a brief disgust from the athlete, a question from a coach, and quick smattering of "boos" from the affected crowd. Move on. A game official can make mistakes. Just like a player (your little baby future all-state current travel ball kid who you think deserves a scholarship but is really not that good) that just struck out looking at a pitch right down the middle. An all-star who missed both free-throws. A show-boat wide receiver who dropped a pass while he was wide open. We all miss a call, hesitate at a pitch, brick a shot, and drop the ball. More often than we can admit. Stop trying to live out your dreams vicariously through your kids... Get your child and his/her teammates an ice cream cone. Go to a worship service on Sunday mornings. Spend quality time with your kids Sunday afternoons. That's way more important than if the rival soccer team was offsides... Then at the ceremonial events and rites of passage, let us be dignified and show respect for others.

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