“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32 

Last Sunday, I preached a sermon on civility and kindness.  Before I leave this topic I want to add a liitle more based on the text from Ephesians 4:32.  Webster’s dictionary defines “civility” as “civilized conduct, especially: courtesy, politeness; a polite act or expression.”  Increasingly, we are living in a less and less civil world.  It seems like everywhere we turn, we witness acts of incivility and rude behavior: at the grocery store, the bank, the airport, even driving on the road.   We find rude behavior from the intrusive cell-phone user who holds loud conversations in public to the hostile highway driver who cuts us off with a quick swerve of his car.  Politeness seems to be on a downward spiral even during this Covid-19 pandemic, whether we witness people snatching hand sanitizers out of other people’s hands or grabbing and hoarding toilet paper. The truth is that rude behavior is becoming more and more prevalent.  But this doesn’t make it any more acceptable. 

Dr. P.M. Forni is an award-winning professor of Italian Literature at Johns Hopkins University, who recently wrote a book entitled, “The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude.” Forni has some interesting observations about why we are rude, particularly in our cars.  He notes that two distinct forces coalesce in the experience of driving that tend to influence drivers to become rude.  One force is anonymity and the other is stress.  The experience of driving tends to be an anonymous one since we are so isolated in our cars from other drivers that there is very little interpersonal contact. This tends to make the experience of driving an impersonal one.  The second force that combines with this is stress and which of us does not live under stress particularly in this time?  When we’re under stress and driving, we tend to lash out at what we perceive as something that is impersonal.  What we tend to forget is that the car that just cut us off is being driven by a human being with feelings, emotions and rights just like ourselves.  When these two forces combine (stress & anonymity) people tend to respond to others in rude ways, yelling at the other driver, honking the horn, chasing them, cutting them off in return or making an obscene gesture.  Remove one of these factors and the whole situation changes. For example, suppose you are in a contest with a rude driver who has given you an obscene gesture and you retaliate with another obscene gesture and suddenly you realize the person in the other car is your next door neighbor, or perhaps your child’s school teacher or principal.  Remove the anonymity factor and the whole situation changes.

“Precisely because rudeness is quite common, it is not a trivial issue.  Indeed, in our day to day lives it is possibly responsible for more pain than any other mortal failing.”

Emrys Westacott

Forni also makes a distinction in his book between what he calls focused and unfocused rudeness.  Focused rudeness exists when the rude behavior is focused on a particular individual or group.  For example, if you’re a supervisor at work and you tend to be rude toward one particular worker because he or she irritates you or there’s just something about him or her you don’t like.  Most rude behavior though is unfocused and almost unconscious such as the person who will take a cell phone call in the restaurant or theater and carry on the conversation in a loud voice and not even think about whether this may be disturbing to others.  The thought that this behavior might be rude never even crosses their mind.  They don’t intentionally set out to be rude, but for all their good intentions they are. Most rude behavior is unfocused.

The apostle Paul had something to say about Christians and civility. In Ephesians 4:32, Paul exhorts the Ephesian Christians,  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Christians are to live differently in the world with our model of behavior being Jesus Christ. Instead of retaliating against rude behavior with rudeness, we are to respond with kindness and civility.  As Paul once told the Christians in Rome, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).  It may not necessarily make you feel better but it will provide a standard and example for the other person to follow who is engaging in the incivility.  The next time someone salutes you with the one finger salute, try smiling at them and saying, “God bless you!” If nothing else, this will probably confuse and bewilder the person exhibiting the rude behavior.  Be kind to one another.

Lord, help us to remember that as we bear the name “Christian,” we are taking on the name of Jesus.  Help us to live in such a way that we return the rudeness of others with kindness and the meanness of others with compassion and love.  This we ask in the name of Jesus who is the source of all kindness, goodness and love.  Amen. 

Questions for Reflection

  1. When was the last time someone said or did something to you that was rude or inconsiderate?  How did you respond; with kindness or retaliation?
  2.  We have a natural tendency to react to incivility with incivility, to rudeness with rudeness.  But do we fight fire with fire or with water? Someone once said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”  Would you agree or not?  Why?
  3. Jesus is the model of kindness for us to follow.  Peter describes in detail how Jesus is the model for us when we encounter rude and uncivil behavior, “God called you to endure suffering because Christ suffered for you. He left you an example so that you could follow in his footsteps. Christ never committed any sin. He never spoke deceitfully. Christ never verbally abused those who verbally abused him. When he suffered, he didn’t make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly.”  -1 Peter 21-23 (GWT) How does your behavior and temperament measure up to this standard?  
  4. When we look to Jesus as our model for living the Christian life we can become very discouraged because he was perfect in every way.  But what we often forget is that the same Jesus who lived such a perfect life lives in us and His Spirit within us can empower us to live as Jesus lived.  Paul writes,   “It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!”  -Romans 8-11 (The Message) Have you been empowered by the resurrection life of Jesus to behave in kind and loving ways as Jesus?  If not, why not?