The Lost Priceless Art of Common Courtesy

Many of the narrators (i.e., the talking heads) say the problem in America is “racism,” but I dare say the problem is deeper than this. You see, in my fair amount of years of living, I have known very few people who were racist in the true sense of the word, regardless of their ethnicity. Oh sure, there are cliques and biases, but every color and sector has these. For example, when I was a teen there was a fellow a few years older than me who lived in the same apartment complex. He had a shirt that read, “If You Ain’t Chicano, You Ain’t Caca!” Today, such a shirt would be  considered “racist,” yet this person was not racist. His friends included blacks, whites, and Asians.

The deeper problem today, I believe, is the decline in respect and common courtesy all around. I have seen such a rise in disrespect toward others from elementary schools to professional political platforms.

I have witnessed people treating employees at fast food restaurants and department stores as though these individuals are beneath them, as they yelled and belittled them. I’ve seen videos of cops being screamed and cussed at because they pulled persons over for speeding. I’ve observed young men treating others with contempt yet demanding respect. I’ve experienced reaching my hand out only to have persons look down at my hand then back at me, keeping their arms crossed.

In media, whole groups of people are generalized and demonized—especially if persons or groups do not share the same opinions and agendas.

Kids can cuss and threaten teachers or bully students; yet, many parents will side with their children—regardless of the rebellious behavior. Some parents yell awful, demeaning things at kids’ sporting events. Many belittle police officers, referring to them as the “pigs.” We live in a day where the position of president is not even respected. I read of a children’s book recently portraying President Trump as a pig. There has been a growth in numbers who show utmost disrespect for the flag, those in the military, and those who have sacrificed much. Let us not forget the disrespect shown to our elders. I recently came across a video of and elderly man of color being punched by a group of young men of color for wearing a US winter hat.

We’ve become a society having a sense of entitlement, as if somehow others owe us something. But why would anyone owe us anything while we “do not owe anyone a single thing”?

The disrespect and lack of courtesy transcends color, ethnicity, gender, economic class, etc., and these have poisoned our society like nothing else can. How can our country deal with racism if it disregards the necessity of respect. Mind you, showing respect does not mean to agree with someone or to like them. Rather, it is to show honor for a person’s position and/or personhood. Yet, how often I will hear people say, “I’m not going to respect him/her, they don’t deserve respect. Respect is to be earned!” What a bunch of baloney! We’re to demand respect while dishing out disrespect?! It does not work this way, and this is precisely a major reason our society is in the mess it is in.

The Bible tells us:

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. ~ Matthew 7:12

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. ~ 1 Peter 2:17

How can we cry out for love and justice if we cannot even show respect and common courtesy to one another? This is like crying out for light and warmth, yet pouring water over any flickering flames.

Somewhere on a shelf in the dark basement of the human heart is the lost, but ever so valuable, art of common courtesy. Until we can find this and finally display it again, the cries against racism, injustice, etc. are but also a lost cause.

Be Willing to Be Kind to Yourself

I was sitting there the first week of intensive outpatient therapy for my depression. A lady sitting across from me shared with the group, “Be willing to be kind to yourself, and speak well of yourself.” While I have come across this concept numerous times since then, it was revolutionary to me that particular winter morning.

It almost seems silly, does it not? Yet how many of us are guilty of criticizing ourselves, sometimes echoing hurtful words spoken to us years—perhaps decades—ago? We  are critical of our size, our nose, our smile, or complexion. We make a mistake or fail at something, and our thoughts go to, “Man, I’m so stupid,” or “I’m never going to amount to anything.” On and on the criticisms come.

What is the “Golden Rule”? Jesus teaches us: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). How do we desire to be treated? With honor, respect, mercy, kindness, patience, and love, correct? But why? Because we are divine image-bearers!

Being kind to ourselves is not the same as being selfish or conceited. Rather, it is being humble but not self-abasing; acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, but not paralyzing our growth by self-criticism and self-fulfilling prophecies. It is acknowledging our strengths and giftings but not becoming conceited.

When you look at others, regardless what you might think of them, each of them have both strengths and weaknesses. Each of them are God’s image-bearers, even though many pay no thought to Him. Nevertheless, each has incredible value God has bestowed on them. Many of them are oblivious to their true worth and purpose, and all the while being quite self-conscious of their weaknesses (even those who appear to have it altogether).

In the same manner, that person you see each time you look in the mirror also has strengths and weaknesses. That person deserves to be respected and complimented, because that person is also an image-bearer of his/her Creator. That person does not need to be criticized for their appearance or shortcomings. That person deserves to be taught, admonished, and encouraged. Indeed, show kindness to those you meet, Lord knows the world needs more kindness. But remember to be kind to the precious one looking back at you in the mirror. This person deserves some kindness too—not the least coming from you.