ISIS beheads more innocent people in the Middle East … and people have lost interest.
Marco Rubio announces his candidacy for president … and it hardly gets our attention.
Dzhohar Tsarnaev gets convicted for Boston Marathon bombing … only a few people notice.
But when pretty ESPN reporter Britt McHenry spews her toilet mouth at a female clerk working in an auto impound yard, all hell breaks loose as the video goes viral. Many people rushed to condemn McHenry while some attempted to defend her actions as possibly a one-time lapse in judgment and manners. She later issued a public apology. ESPN suspended her for a week. I hope she apologizes to the clerk without cameras rolling as that would demonstrate character.
I do not know McHenry but I would hate to be forever judged by a momentary lapse of control. On the other hand, if this display by McHenry is indicative of her true character, no amount of beauty treatments and on-air talent can make her a beautiful person. Only God can change what ails her.
We live in a new world where the prolific spread of public video cameras as well as the millions of smart phone cameras floating around has the consequence of capturing us at some of our worst moments in life. Cameras are like little elves watching our every move that they report to Santa when little boys and girls misbehave. You might think this new level of electronic scrutiny would put us on our best behavior, but you would be wrong. It didn’t stop a South Carolina police officer from shooting a fleeing unarmed suspect in the back last week; nearly all of it caught on camera.
At the risk of sounding like the old man who shouts at kids to stay off his lawn, I’ve watched manners and civility decline in America during my lifetime. It used to be unusual to encounter ill-mannered people, and when you did it was said of them that they were not raised right. The community ostracized them. Not so any more. Today the uncouth can rise to the highest levels of society. Apparently we have decided that manners are not as important as in the past. This will have tragic consequences for everyone. How so? Because good manners matter to God … a lot! Hosea 4:1 (NLT) says:
“Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel!
The Lord has brought charges against you, saying:
‘There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
no knowledge of God in your land.’”
God made this statement to the society of Israel just before he broke their nation and scattered its people around the world as a consequence of their self-obsessed lives. At that time most people in Israel did not care about anyone else but themselves. History has brought us to the same point in America. There are some deep and errant philosophies and ideologies that have led to this, but needless to say it has arrived.
What can be done about it? The answer is old fashioned but right on: manners and civility has to be taught in homes, churches, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League, soccer teams, and schools. If we have not embraced manners and civility by adulthood, it’s never too late to learn. As a society we must stop rewarding poor behavior … no matter how much money uncouth people bring into our businesses, institutions, and organizations. If some people insist on living like animals, then they can do so on the outskirts of society.
Treating people with civility is a herculean task when we don’t feel good or when we feel that someone has screwed us. But that is what Jesus told us to do when he said “turn the other cheek.” The teaching that we turn the other cheek is not an imperative that we never fight back; it simply means we fight back with grace and manners, sometimes by letting the issue go or by actually helping our adversary. Such an approach demonstrates the beauty of the kingdom of heaven because it is in sharp contrast to the way the world does things. I hope McHenry learns it and lives it. I hope we all learn it and live it. We all drop the ball of good manners occasionally, but that’s ok so long as it breaks our heart and inspires us to perfect our manners going forward.
A recent article about pregnant women caught my attention, probably because our first grandchild is due in September. The headline was this: “What Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman” by Marlena Graves. Here’s a sample of inappropriate things people say to pregnant women:
So, who’s the father?
Boy, you’re getting fat.
You look like you’re about to pop.
I love seeing the new mother glow and nice round breasts
Was this a planned pregnancy?
Such comments are often delivered as an attempt at humor. However, regardless of the context, some of these comments are crass and insensitive. I get it. Still, a sense of humor is essential when we are on the receiving end of offensive remarks. It’s hard enough to get through this life without turning into a grumpy old wretch. A sense of humor does not excuse bad behavior or inappropriate comments, but it does help as a coping mechanism. Of course, there are times when amusement at poor manners is not appropriate and a more direct approach with the offender is necessary. Just be aware that not all offenders can be politely embarrassed into changing their behavior. They are simply oblivious to their faux pas and unlikely to understand why their comments were not . . . appreciated. Even if we confront them, I doubt we can correct a lifetime of missed lessons about etiquette. Hence, for our own mental health, we need that sense of humor.
I was born and raised in California, though I have family in rural Georgia. When visiting my family in Georgia, I become keenly aware of the difference in manners and customs between folk from my neck of the woods and people raised in the South. Those of us from California are often very laid-back, whereas people from the South have more expectations about proper behavior. Thankfully, people from the South are also very forgiving once they learn I’m from California.
I once heard a comedian assert that our culture has become so comfortable that we now make up reasons to be upset and offended. He used this example: While experiencing the miracle of flight, an airline passenger gets enraged when the flight attendant announced that the aircraft Wi-Fi was not operating. Really? It should be a minor annoyance, not something that raises our blood pressure. Good manners and civility are necessary for a culture to survive and thrive, but I wonder if we have a tendency to overreact these days.
It is possible one reason so many people accuse Christians of being judgmental is this hyper-sensitivity to anything that falls outside our standards of polite behavior and speech. Quite frankly, not everyone was raised by parents who insisted on good manners. When we have dealings with the ill-mannered, it’s an opportunity to express grace instead of going to our default mode of incredulity and offended feelings. If we really want to make an impact, perhaps we should focus our insistence on good manners towards children and young adults.
As a sensitive man (I know, it’s an oxymoron), I realize there are serious aspects to life and faith, but I wonder if we make them more problematic than necessary.