Updated: Feb 7
I was always taught to be polite. To think about how my words made other people feel and to not speak when my words were going to be hurtful. And while my sharp tongue often got me in trouble, my parents were quick to reprimand me.
On one such occasion, my father’s driver – Ishmael - drove me to my horseback riding lesson. We boarded my horse at the stable where I took lessons. I had gone to the stables more times than I can count. That day, I didn’t pay attention as Ishmael drove. I didn’t notice when Ishmael took a wrong turn. We got lost, and I was late for my lesson.
My response was to yell at Ishmael.
When I got home, my father sat me down and said, “You don’t get to treat people like that.” I tried to point out that Ishmael had indeed made me late. His response, “You have been to that stables hundreds of times. You need to take responsibility. A person is measured by how they treat those that are below them, not how they treat those that have power over them. You are to treat everyone with dignity and respect.”
My father’s words still guide how I treat others. I always smile at the janitor, thank the parking attendant and tip generously the waitress. I try to respect all people. And when someone “messes up,” I try to see my culpability.
It seems like some people use “speaking plainly” or “politically incorrect” to hide impoliteness. Our country is led by politicians – like our President - and other celebrities – such as Roseanne Barr, who have forgotten common decency. They are supported by people who spew hateful speech hiding behind their computer. This has turned our discourse into nasty rhetoric without any substance.
It isn’t politically correct to avoid saying something that hurts people’s feelings, it’s being polite. Speaking plainly means avoiding using flowery language. It doesn’t give you license to eviscerate another human being. Power, privilege nor social media excuse bad behavior. Politeness still matters, because, in our society, people matter.
It matters even more for those of us who claim to be Christian.
As Christians, we are called to love one another. And without love, our speech is not only hurtful but a cacophony of noise. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Even when what we say is true, if it is not said with love, it is just noise.
How often are people’s words made meaningless because they included a hurtful jab? While I love Samantha Bee’s witty commentary, her one comment about Ivanka Kushner silenced all the good she has done.
Our words also have power. According to Jesus, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.” Our words, whether written on Twitter or said aloud, show the sin that is in our heart and that sin leads to evil.
When people dismiss President Trump's tweet as just words, I wonder where these words originate? According to Jesus, our words show us the state of our heart. If that is true – which I believe it is – our collective heart is despicable indeed.
There has never been more of a need for civility than today. As the divisions in our country deepen, we desperately need love to bridge the divide. We need to treat each other with kindness, gentleness, and respect. Our words should be polite, not out of a need to prove some political agenda but out of a desire to show love so that we can speak plainly.
Politeness is not an empty gesture, but the opportunity to give respect to all of God’s children. Maybe we need a little more love and little less noise.