When we use the term “common courtesy,” we generally refer to what some people call social norms, manners, or social etiquette. I realize that scores of information have been written over hundreds, and even thousands, of years.
Most of what we know about common courtesy came from our parents who taught us to chew with our mouth closed, wait your turn, say please and thank you, open the door for others, etc. I still remember my mother being horrified when, at a restaurant, one of us kids said, “hey lady, you forgot my fork.” It was a good opportunity for a discussion on social etiquette.
I put a request out on social media recently to ask if people thought common courtesy has been diminishing. Although it was an unscientific poll, most said yes and identified several areas of concern.
The poll revealed exactly what I believed to be true. In addition to the disappearance of social etiquette, I’ve noticed the disintegration of simple respect or what we might just define as “just being a decent human being.” I’ve noticed these traits evaporating over the years, but so much more so now in the midst of a pandemic and election year.
As Americans, we are part of the United States of America. Although we are united as states, it is no secret that Americans are divided on a multitude of issues. All of them are critically important. Many of them conjure up deep emotion and tension. The basic problem is egocentrism. All of us think a certain way and we believe we’re right.
Because we think we’re right we believe that the world would be a better place if everyone just thought like us. Makes sense. Then, we adamantly attempt to convince others to see the error of their ways and to agree with us. The problem was that philosophy is that we all have deep-seeded beliefs.
For example, in true transparency, my social beliefs are guided by my faith in God. From my perspective, I believe in right and wrong. I believe in moral absolutes. I believe in the Judeo/Christian foundation of morality. However, I know that not everyone believes that way.
Other people reject a belief in God and prefer a humanistic view. Their belief system is based upon a different set of values. These values are often good values, but from my perspective, they are not always biblical values. Invariably, this leads to possible tension and potential conflict.
As a pastor and student of the Bible, I am convinced that the Bible has all the answers. It doesn’t have the answers to all the questions I have, but it has all the answers to the questions that I need to know.
One of the foundational truths in the Bible is that all humans are created in the image of God. We all have value. That doesn’t mean that everyone created in the image of God will believe in Him or submit to His will, but it does mean that, at the core of their existence, they have tremendous value. In fact, people have so much value that God sent His one and only Son to die upon a cross. He thought we were worth it.
Thus, for me, common courtesy has a biblical foundation. Not only does the Bible reveal that we all have value, but it also reveals a proper understanding of how followers of Jesus should act toward all people. Followers of Christ are to love, honor, and serve others.
Jesus taught and modeled this truth. For example, on one occasion he said if you are invited to a prestigious party, don’t be a braggard and be puffed up and full of yourself wanting to be honored by others (a contemporary paraphrase from Luke 14:7-11). Jesus also modeled this truth. The Bible says he came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). As God in the flesh, He became human and humbled Himself by dying upon a cross (Phil 2:8).
Perhaps a great summary statement would be when Jesus said, “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Notice He did not say, do “as” they do to you. This often leads to retaliation. He preferred a more proactive approach and “do to others as you would have them do to you.” Figuring this out is not overly complicated. We often make statements about ourselves like, “I wish somebody would…” or “How come nobody ever…?” When we make statements like these, it is probably safe to say that, oftentimes, other people are feeling what we are feeling. Rather than wanting to receive, we need to be willing to give.
For example, when we’re sitting in stop and go traffic, perhaps on I-70, for some reason it’s often very difficult to let people merge in. We feel like it’s unfair. We’ve been waiting our turn and minding our own business, but now, some stranger wants to butt in. They don’t deserve it. What’s worse, the guy in front of us didn’t let anyone in which means two people might try to squeeze in front of us! So unfair.
You’ve been there, right? You see their blinker and yet you get as close to the car in front of you as you can. You also don’t make eye contact, but pretend you don’t see them or worse, you give them the “how dare you look”. If you think about it, it’s really such a small thing. Yet, we grow tense and feel violated.
The “do unto others” principle just means that we, at times, are “those people” who try to merge in. When we’re the mergers, we’re just as tired and running just as late. We’re frustrated when we realize we have to merge and just want to get home like everybody else. Being a descent person just means that we extend basic kindness to the people around us—even if they don’t understand the basic concept of the zipper merge.
One of the biggest issues I’ve noticed does not have to do with face-to-face interaction, but with social media. Have you noticed how mean and cruel some people can be on social media? Social scientists have used the phrase “disinhibition effect” to describe the difference between the way we communicate face-to-face and the way we communicate online. There is a huge difference. Oftentimes, people “say” things online that they would never say to another person’s face.
If you’re on social media, you’ve seen all the election propaganda. You probably have family and friends who do not agree with you and you’ve wondered, “How can that person believe that kind of garbage?”
The truth be known, they’re thinking the same thing about you. It’s inevitable. We will disagree. And truth be known, you’re not changing my mind no matter how many bumper stickers you put on your car or how many posts you put on social media. It’s not that I don’t understand your point or philosophy. I understand. I just don’t agree.
However, my disagreeing with you doesn’t mean that I can’t respect you as a person and treat you as a human being. Just like me, you were created in the image of God. My ultimate goal, and I often fall far short, is to display the love and kindness of Jesus to people who don’t agree with me and possibly don’t like me. I won’t change my philosophy or my mind, but I can choose how to respond and “speak truth in love” (Eph 4:15).
Jesus, the ultimate role model, when on the cross, loved those who drove the nails saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” We may not agree, but can’t we still be civil, kind, and respectful? We all are, after all, human and, therefore, family. We all are created in the image of God.
Dr. Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Professor of Speech, and freelance writer.