I don’t know about you. But I prefer that things are orderly, that they follow some recognizable pattern, and that they generally make sense. Now it’s not absolutely necessary that a person be obsessive-compulsive, which I’m not—you should see my desk—to appreciate cars neatly lined up at a car dealership; or well-ordered grocery store shelves stocked with cereal boxes and soup cans and school supplies; or dishes, sweaters, and towels neatly arranged in cupboards and closets at your house or at mom’s; or Fishburne students running single file in the right lane down the greenway. Orderly. Following recognizable patterns. Sensible. Notice I didn’t insist that things be so just because I said so, just that it is what I would prefer. I might raise an eyebrow and smile a smirky smile, but deep down, I will also be blessing your heart.
When dealing with people there is an added layer of complexity, maybe even several. If you know and love these people, there are behavior protocols you will probably need to acknowledge, respect, and comply with. Most of these protocols are widely recognized and accepted, like not actually referring to your parents by their first name even if they say it’s okay. Now I don’t even know how that conversation starts. But I probably would decline. If these people are complete strangers, or just passing acquaintances, or even colleagues you only see at work, most behavior protocols would err on the side of caution lest you give even the slightest hint of disrespect, like not actually referring to a person in a public role of authority without the proper title or honorific, sometimes regardless of their telling you it’s okay to skip formalities. So the use of these protocols provide our interactions one with another an acceptable degree of civility and order, with easily recognizable patterns, respectful and courteous.
Then there are those who have little or no use for civility and order. These people were raised in a barn. They will likely ignore anything you tell them. But be patient and forgiving anyway. Give them time. Potty training can be exhausting. Bless their heart.
The gospels recount for us several different occasions of Jesus sitting down to dinner with others. We can presume he ate with his disciples on a regular basis. But those occasions that gave rise to more interesting conversations and teachings typically occurred when he dined with people like the Pharisees or others in authority. So we know Jesus accepted dinner invitations with both supporters and adversaries. And he also took careful notice of how people around him behaved. When you want to know what a person thinks, you can ask them to articulate their reasons and convictions, their beliefs and principles. Or you can consider the choices they make and watch how they behave. Actions definitely speak louder than words. And if you have to choose between the behavior you see and whatever they say to rationalize that behavior in question, you can’t just dismiss what you see. But give them the benefit of the doubt, and perhaps listen to what they have to say. But withhold any judgement. And bless their heart.
Knowing your place in the pecking order is an unmistakable sign of civility and courtesy and respect. There is always a certain charm in period drama on TV and in the movies where men bow and women curtsy, where the people who live upstairs don’t comfortably mingle with the people downstairs, and where those who reminisce about the good old days are most likely referring to a time when society was less diverse, less accommodating, and less open to change. Although a lot of these outdated conventions have fallen by the wayside, there is still a great demand and appreciation for civility, courtesy, and respect. But since social pressure only goes so far, you take your life in your own hands if you bring it up. So you bite your tongue. And you bless their heart.
Although Jesus cited very tangible examples for enhancing human interactions, from voluntarily sitting in the lowest place to inviting to dinner only those who will never be able to return the favor, he was clearly inviting his listeners and us to consider our behavior toward our neighbor in light of our relationship with God himself. Most children will treat their peers with greater civility, courtesy, and respect when they know a respected adult is watching. If they do it anyway even when no one is watching, we say they have learned well. But from an early age, most of us have probably heard that even if no one is watching, God is always watching. So that thought helped to restrain some of our less-than-Christian impulses and inclinations. Still we have to admit that our convictions are more deeply rooted when our actions are governed less by external influences. We speak and act in a certain way because we are convinced it is the right way, regardless of who is watching or who we are actually dealing with. We alone should determine what we say and how we act. That means we accept full responsibility for everything we say and do. The fear of the loss of heaven and the pains of hell is a start, but an immature start. In the end, fear must give way to conviction.
The passage we read from Sirach calls us to reflect on the virtue of humility. But humility is less about publicly demeaning or setting aside our self-worth. Rather it is knowing and embracing graciously and willingly the truth about our strengths and gifts, along with our flaws and imperfections. I am aware of most of mine, particularly the flaws and imperfections. Sometimes other people will bring them to my attention. Thank you, and bless your heart. I hope you are aware of yours, strengths and gifts, flaws and imperfections. And the gracious and willing knowledge and embrace of truth should guide our words and actions. There is no putting on airs, no pretense, no looking down our noses on others, no judging, only courtesy and respect and patience.
Human worth and dignity are not bestowed or revoked by any law or institution or government. Rather, it comes from God alone in whose image and likeness we have been created, regardless of the color of our skin, our ethnic or cultural background, our disabilities, age, the size of our bank accounts, how we worship, or who we vote for. The knowledge and embrace of this truth is what ultimately should guide and govern how we treat one another whether on the playground, the marketplace, face to face, or online. We have gotten so accustomed to incivility and disrespect lately that treating people rudely brings much greater-envied attention and applause. And this state of affairs is beyond unsettling. So go ahead and wear your hair however. Wear jewelry wherever. Pray whatever. Vote for whoever. Just please know that we all share the same sandbox. And we are all better than the bad example all around us. Still each of us is responsible alone for our own words and actions. Embrace your truth graciously. Raise an eyebrow every now and again if you must. And always remember to bless their heart.
Rolo B Castillo © 2019