At one time in my youth, I became a military wife. The day I was issued an ID so I could get past the guards and onto the base, I was also handed a booklet about what was and was not considered to be acceptable behavior on the part of a spouse or dependent. The instructions made it very clear that there was no room for open criticism, profanity, and derision when referring to the President of the United States. He was, quite simply, the highest ranking officer. Respecting his position as such was not an option. Courtesy was mandated.

The times were turbulent, participation in the military was quite often not voluntary — but breaks in protocol were amazingly few. I managed to avoid any direct conflicts with the powers that were, despite my own questions about what I believed to be going on during the unpopular war that was being fought (and lost).

Some years later, I was preparing to become certified as an adoptive parent. At a parenting education class required by the state to become licensed, I was given another little booklet that described chronic insults and verbal sparring as being the gateway to actual verbal abuse. And verbal abuse as being the first step towards physical abuse. I was impressed by the logic, and although 30 years have passed, I still remember much of what I read in that handout and believe that it is perhaps even more pertinent today. As a society, we treat each other rather miserably. And I believe that much of it boils down to not being required to maintain even the most fundamental postures of courtesy and consideration.

I believe that reality television shows, with their ever-escalating displays of outrageous rudeness and verbal attack, are becoming accepted by some people as freedom of expression. In the meantime, we struggle over the most politically correct way to describe everything from ethnic groups to agriculture without ruffling anybody’s litigious pinfeathers. What is seen on television is often accepted as “the way it is,” and even Jerry Springer has commented that what began on his show as almost satire has morphed into a culture all its own.

As appalled as I am by child abuse, I can’t help but wonder if the grandfather from Indiana who almost killed his grandsons by forcing them to hike the Grand Canyon in the heat wasn’t trying to emulate the so-called “fitness boot camp directors” that scream orders at sweating and weeping victims on almost every channel during prime time viewing.

The grandfather, who was rightly convicted of child abuse charges of the most serious kind, is facing up to life in prison. The reality show sadists are being paid handsomely for their conduct.

How can we teach young people to NOT tolerate verbal assaults from a partner or spouse, then encourage them to absorb (even indirectly) insults and scathing criticism from judges on dance and performance competitions, chefs on cooking competitions, dance school directors and child beauty pageant judges, and political figures trying to make their points with potential voters?

The last line of the pamphlet that I was given along with my military-issued ID said quite simply: “Respectful conduct is our tradition.”