“Taking the First Step to Restore Civility,” by Annie Holmquist, posted September 24, 2020, at: http://www.intellectualtakeout.org . Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout.
The UPS man stopped by with a couple of packages, and in response to my query informed me that yes, the delivery industry was still in Christmas mode, COVID-19 having turned the year into one long, exhausting holiday season. Given the intense nature of his work, I wouldn’t blame him one bit if he walked around in a grumpy cloud of doom, lashing out at anyone and everything. But he doesn’t – even when others treat him in such a manner.
An instance of that happened the other day, the UPS man explained to me. While making a delivery, he happened upon a woman whose order had been messed up, and she was spitting nails over it. Although he tried to explain that he had nothing to do with the mix-up, she would have none of it, and went on a seven-minute tirade, throwing F-bombs at him left and right.
For most of us, such abuse would be more than we could take. My friend wasn’t too thrilled about the abuse he was receiving either, but he decided to try an experiment. He listened until she was finished and then thanked her. “The fact that you spent time telling me all of this,” he said, “shows that you think I’m an important person. I’m valuable enough that you want me to listen, so thank you for showing me that.”
A bit stunned, the woman looked at him and melted, immediately dropping her ill-directed rage. Who can blame her? Receiving gracious gratitude in response to verbal abuse would startle anyone and diffuse even the most difficult of situations.
Hearing his story gave me great pause.
We live in a society where civility and mannerly behavior have gone out the window. Just watch a video of any riot from the last few months. Each is full of angry people, gnashing their teeth and taking their anger out through violently beating or shooting innocent people. Or flip through a few photos taken in the aftermath of “peaceful protests.” They are full of profane graffiti directed at cops, scrawled with abandon over boarded up buildings. Or consider the videos of angry protesters yelling in the faces of peaceful diners, innocently trying to enjoy a private meal at a favorite restaurant, but instead finding themselves harassed to support a cause they may or may not have an opinion on.
Furthermore, consider daily social media rants and arguments with family, friends, and neighbors. Everyone suddenly has a bone to pick with whomever is nearest to them, even if that person has nothing to do with the problem.
Samuel Adams once said:
Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.
Likewise, Thomas Jefferson noted:
It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.
When confronted by the anger and vitriol racing through our society, what if we, like my friend the UPS man, took a different tack and exercised a little civility, refusing to lash out in anger even when we’ve been unjustly accosted ourselves? Would we begin to see a difference in our society – a difference that might turn us away from the destructive path we are headed down?
To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition imposed on us by someone or something else.
Proverbs 15:1 — A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
II Timothy 2:24 — Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
Ephesians 4:2 — Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Colossians 3:12-14 — Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
PRAYERS BASED ON MARTIN LUTHER’S SMALL CATECHISM EXPLANATION TO THE EIGHT COMMANDMENT:
O God, you command us not to bear false witness against our neighbor. May we so fear and love you that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor; but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
I confess and ask for your grace, because I have so often in my life sinfully spoke with malice and contempt against other people. They depend on me for their honor and reputation, just as I depend on them for the same. Help us all to obey this commandment, giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and explaining their actions in the kindest way. Amen.