Mike Sparks: ‘Leadership Lapses’ The Role of Public Officials in Civility’s Decline


Are Egos, Excessive Pride and Narcissism out of Control? 

Once again, I find myself echoing the words of Bob Dylan: “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” His lyrics resonate with me now more than ever. The divisiveness and lack of civility in today’s society, I will argue, are worse than ever. It’s simply ‘CRAZY!’ The strange and sometimes alarming events I have witnessed serve as a stark reminder of the ever-changing landscape of America and our communities.

Case in point—just yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders had to bang his gavel and calm tensions after Senator Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) asked Teamsters’ Sean O’Brien if he wanted to ‘finish it here.’ That’s not only funny but also ‘crazy.’



In another recent incident highlighting the heightened tension within the House GOP, Representative Tim Burchett (R-TN) from Tennessee accused former House Speaker and fellow Republican Kevin McCarthy of elbowing him in the kidneys on Tuesday morning. The altercation occurred while Burchett was engaged in a conversation with a reporter, underscoring the strained relationships within Congress.

Related: The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner

Burchett, who was among the eight Republicans voting to oust McCarthy, has been consistently critical of the former speaker. The alleged physical encounter serves a just one of the many examples of the intense pressure cooker atmosphere currently prevailing within the House GOP.


Describing McCarthy as a “bully,” Burchett detailed the incident where he claimed that McCarthy elbowed him in the kidneys while he was speaking to a reporter in the hallway outside the GOP conference meeting. This altercation further contributes to the hostilities and internal strife within the House Republican ranks, highlighting the challenges and deep-seated disagreements among its members.

I recently reached out to Dr. David Urban, Emeritus Dean of the College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), Dr. David Urban MTSUwith a request for him to moderate a ‘Smyrna Business Roundtable’
and if he could he craft a 30-45 minute lecture regarding into the realms of effective leadership, communication, and drawing insights from the Dale Carnegie Program?
It’s been my experience that Dr. Urban is not only brilliant, compassionate, but has a love for his country and served in the Navy.

This program, with its course objectives centered on building self-confidence, strengthening interpersonal skills, honing communication abilities, fostering leadership qualities, and controlling stress while enhancing attitudes, felt like a timely prescription for the challenges we face. The Smyrna Business Roundtable and lecture was successful—sadly, those who needed to hear the lecture didn’t attend.

These incidents underscore the urgent need for a reevaluation of leadership, communication, and interpersonal dynamics. The need for effective leadership is not just a personal endeavor but a collective responsibility. Dr. Urban’s proposed lecture, drawing from the wisdom of the Dale Carnegie Program, holds promise in navigating the complexities of contemporary challenges.

The Dale Carnegie Program’s emphasis on building self-confidence resonates as a crucial ingredient in navigating a world marked by uncertainty and rapid change. Strengthening interpersonal skills becomes paramount in fostering a sense of community and understanding. Effective communication, a cornerstone of the program, is essential for bridging divides and cultivating a culture of respect.


Let’s delve into some key bullet points that shed light on why the increase in lack of civility.

According to a recent poll conducted by the American Bar Association, an overwhelming majority of Americans perceive a decline in societal civility over the past decade, with social media and public officials taking the lion’s share of the blame.

The ABA’s annual Survey of Civic Literacy, based on responses from 1,000 participants, revealed that a staggering 85% believe that civility in today’s society has worsened compared to ten years ago. Only 8% expressed the belief that it has improved, while a minimal 6% felt it has remained the same. When probed about the primary factors contributing to the decline in civility, 29% attributed it to social media, 24% pointed fingers at the media, 19% held public officials responsible, and 8% cited the educational system. Surprisingly, a mere 2% of respondents identified the courts as a primary factor in the erosion of civility.


  1. Social Media Escalation:
    • The Rise of Online Anonymity: The anonymity offered by social media platforms often emboldens individuals to express their opinions with a lack of restraint. Without facing immediate consequences, people may engage in behavior online that they wouldn’t in face-to-face interactions.
    • Echo Chambers and Polarization: Social media algorithms tend to create echo chambers, where individuals are exposed to information that aligns with their existing beliefs. This can lead to increased polarization as people become less exposed to diverse perspectives and more entrenched in their own views.
  2. Political Divisiveness:
    • Hyperpartisanship: The deepening divide between political ideologies has contributed to an “us versus them” mentality. As political discourse becomes increasingly combative, individuals may find it difficult to engage in civil conversations with those who hold differing views.
    • Leadership Tone: The tone set by public officials, particularly at the highest levels of government, plays a crucial role. When leaders engage in name-calling, derogatory language, or dismissive behavior, it sets a precedent for a lack of civility in public discourse.
  3. Media Influence:
    • Sensationalism: Some argue that media outlets, driven by the need for ratings and clicks, amplify conflict and sensationalize issues. This focus on the dramatic can contribute to a divisive public discourse, as nuanced discussions may take a back seat to more attention-grabbing narratives.
    • 24/7 News Cycle: The constant barrage of news and information in the 24/7 news cycle may contribute to heightened stress and a sense of urgency. This environment can make it challenging for individuals to engage in thoughtful, measured discussions.
  4. Educational System Challenges:
    • Civics Education Deficiency: Some theorists posit that a lack of emphasis on civics education in schools has resulted in a generation less equipped to navigate and contribute to civil discourse. Understanding the principles of democracy, respectful disagreement, and the value of diverse perspectives is crucial for fostering a civil society.
  5. Family and Community Dynamics:
    • Changing Family Structures: Changes in family dynamics, including increased work demands and shifting priorities, may impact the time families spend discussing and imparting values related to civility.
    • Community Fragmentation: As communities become more fragmented, individuals may feel less connected to their neighbors and less invested in maintaining a sense of shared responsibility for civil behavior.

In the face of these problems, there is a growing recognition that rebuilding a culture of civility requires collective effort. Initiatives promoting media literacy, fostering respectful political discussions, and enhancing civics education have gained traction. Additionally, calls for leadership accountability and promoting empathy in interpersonal interactions are becoming increasingly vital.

The road to restoring civility is complex, but acknowledging the contributing factors is a crucial first step. By addressing the issue and actively working towards positive change, there is hope that America can reverse the trend of declining civility and foster a more respectful and inclusive society.

Leadership, as we’ve recently seen on Capitol Hill, should demand a higher level of decorum and civility. The principles advocated by Dale Carnegie – on building leadership skills, reducing stress, and improving attitudes – are not just theories— but common sense tools for those steering the ship of governance. Yes, it would be nice if our family members, friends, associates and even my fellow lawmakers all agreed with me, but if they all did our world be be a very boring place. 

Amidst the conflicts and significant loss of life in regions such as Israel and Gaza, Ukraine and Russia, and beyond, my hope is that leaders will reflect on the sacrifices of our forefathers. Their endurance paved the way for the freedom we have today, enabling us to engage in thoughtful deliberations on pressing issues. The thought of the 58,200 Vietnam soldiers, with an average age of only 22, often crosses my mind, serving as a strong reminder of the human cost of defending freedom.

As a Christian believer, I see instances of significant egos, excessive pride, and occasional narcissism among those in leadership positions— particularly at the local level. The prevalence of hate and animosity is disheartening, especially when individuals are unable to engage in constructive conversations to address problems. I see it as pure ‘evil.’ If we don’t start solving the myriad of problems are nation faces and helping the next generation I’m seriously afraid our country as we’ve known it will soon be a memory and the problems will overwhelm governments. Our leaders, churches, pastors, non-profits, teachers, mentors, police officers, healthcare workers and really ‘all of us’ need to get involved. I can promise you government is not the answer.

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Romans 12:16 NLT

It soon becomes evident that the focus is not on ‘serving the people’ but rather on serving personal interests. While some of these occurrences may be amusing, much like the squabbles of seventh-graders, the increase in instances are very alarming for the future of America and our community. In essence, it’s undeniable that “The Times They certainly are ‘A-Changin.’


Feel free to email me your input, ideas and possible solutions at MikeSparksTn@gmail.com or call my office 615-741-6829