Monday, 17 May 2010
By Clayton King
Confession: I was born and raised in the South. As such, I learned some things. You do not talk about someone’s mama. You always take off your shoes before you go inside the house. You always give a guest a gift before they leave your home (blackberry jam or pear preserves, usually). And you practice basic manners.
Observation: These and many other good, virtuous acts are not the creation or sole possession of us Southerners. It is always a good idea, no matter where you are or who you are, to practice common courtesy. I was reminded of that as I spent four days in deep, hot South Georgia this week speaking in public schools. Students referred to me as “Mr. King” and called me sir. There seemed to be some of the old social code left over from previous generations and it instigated a thought that may be helpful for you.
No matter what your age, vocation, or geographical location, you will be a better person and you will create a better world by simply practicing the basic manners that your mom and dad (should have) taught you. There is a certain way that we should treat other people (hint: it’s the way we would like other people to treat us). And it seems that our advanced and enlightened American culture, in its effort to be faster and more efficient, has thrown manners out the door in exchange for self-indulgence or “getting things done.”
Case in point: This past week, while I was in Georgia being reminded of how lovely it is to see 13 year olds sit still and pay attention, my assistant at our office received a phone call from someone who wanted me to speak at an event. At their church. This person was on staff at that church, perhaps even an ordained minister. And one would assume that if a 13 year old knows how to have a basic, respectful conversation with an adult, that a church staff member would at least know that much. On the contrary, this person was short and rude and bossy, treating our office manager with contempt by speaking to her on the phone like she was an automated phone system. (We get hundreds of calls each week, so please, don’t assume it was automatically YOU if you happened to call this week! And even to the rude person…we forgive you. No hard feelings, but you still help me make a point).
I can assure you that the chances of me ever speaking for this person are less than zero. They automatically made my answer easy. Why would an adult, in the ministry, speak to any other adult in that kind of tone, with that sort of arrogance? Could it be that this is now not only the cultural norm, but the expectation?
Manners have disappeared, in part, because of the stuff we use to entertain ourselves. We don’t learn them by watching The Simpsons and we don’t see them modeled in Hollywood or our favorite reality TV show. But this abandonment of basic manners has even crept into the church where, for all intents and purposes, we can get things done more effectively if we raise our voice, cut people off, tell them like it is, and show them that we mean business. And to be true, employing these tactics will, indeed, get you the immediate results you want. But at what cost?
We are slowly losing the ability to treat other people with basic civility. Observe people in public the next time you’re out. Folks don’t smile. Folks don’t make eye contact. Folks are pushy and rude. And God forbid that the person behind the counter (at Wal-Mart, Target, Starbucks, or McDonalds) gets your order wrong, can’t get your credit card to work, or takes too long. I got flipped off recently for letting someone go ahead of me at a 4 way stop. Really? Did you just flip me off for being nice? Yep, that just happened.
The long-term cost of being rude, pushy and mean is that we get what we want right now by intimidating people, but we lose something much greater that we will need later. We lose the social mechanism for getting along with people. We forfeit the social grease that lubricates the gears of public life. People then begin to forget that others are humans too, and they deserve the same common courtesy that you and I expect when we interact with other human beings. So the culture begins to spiral downward. And who really cares anyway, right? It is becoming more and more easy to forgo all that awkward social interaction, where you actually have to talk to people, look at them, read their facial expressions and interpret their non-verbal communication. It’s so much easier to send them a text and be done with it.
You can’t love your kids through texting and you cannot become a person of virtue and character by treating other people with disrespect and contempt, no matter what their hourly wage may be compared to yours. Get over yourself. You are not so important that you can talk to others or treat others like indentured servants or half-humans. Neither am I. And of all people, followers of Jesus should set the standard.
Be kind to people. Smile. Be patient. Hold the door for someone and let others go in front of you in line. Practice the manners your mother taught you. And if you are the meanie that was rude to our office manager this week, call her and apologize. She is very sweet and she will forgive you.