The ticket agent with the neatly tucked-in blue neck scarf never deserved the abusive language thrown her way. It was bad. The guy in front of me chewed her up like a smoothie blender gone haywire. I watched the nastiness unfold from only three feet away, because I too needed some help with my cancelled flight.
I actually interrupted the guy’s tirade to gently remind him that the cancellation was not her fault. I think I said, “It actually has nothing to do with her.” He told me to shut up, which I promptly did, not out of sympathy for his rage but as a factor of his immensity beside my peanut-size body. I thought all over again of the brunt some people bear for just doing their job innocently and appropriately well. Some customers can be unusually tough.
Customer or not, I wonder if caustic speech is all that unusual anymore. Civility in politics is disappearing with startling speed. Pay attention to the campaign trail, if you haven’t thought about this trend recently. The shift is notable.
I wouldn’t propose that everyone start agreeing with each another. Argumentation is part of the social good we enjoy. Arriving at different conclusions is a given when there are fundamental clashes of outlook. But the loss of decency in speech is on the rise in our public sphere. Who would have thought basic courtesy and respect were so difficult to employ? Evidently they are not the first instinct for a growing number of prominent people giving shape to our country.
I know a Fortune 500 CEO whose most valuable interviewing insight comes from eating out with candidates for senior management. She does not hire, no matter how superb the resume and bright the personality, until she is able to dine in a restaurant with the individual. There she quietly learns firsthand exactly how the candidate treats the wait staff. The level of courtesy or discourtesy informs my friend of the last thing she needs to know before making a final hiring decision.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to respond to everyone” (Colossians 4:6). The Apostle Paul’s admonition for gracious speech is worth some deep consideration. You may not alter the political landscape in America by speaking thoughtfully to others. But you are lending shape to a good that is morally significant in a world stocked with people who have some very strong feelings.
— Peter W. Marty, senior pastor