First there was U.S. Representative Joe Wilson. Then tennis mega-star Serena Williams. Rapper Kanye West was next. Bloggers and editorial writers have been bemoaning the lack of civility these three people have shown in the last week. It’s not just Joe, Serena and Kanye. Their incivility was very public and recorded on video, to be repeated again and again. Incivilities abound today. Have you driven on a major highway recently? Or stood in line at an airport or even the grocery store? Maybe you’ve endured a verbal tirade from a friend or family member?
How have we, as a society, gotten to this point? Rude people have always been a reality, but it seems today that being rude is almost the norm. We have become more informal, that’s for sure. Nobody calls me “Mrs. Bushkofsky” and if somebody did, I’d immediately say, “call me Linda.” Has it been a slippery slope? Has being informal led to rudeness? That can’t be the full picture.
Some would say that the anonymity of blogging or commenting on news, perhaps coupled with the lack of face-to-face contact that comes with e-mail and instant messaging has contributed in the downward spiral of rudeness and incivilities. It’s easier to be rude and snarky, the argument goes, if one is not accountable to the other person.
People like Joe, Serena or Kanye might just be looking for the spotlight. How sad to think that people have to act out to be in the spotlight. Whatever the cause, we can all agree that incivilities abound today.
If we follow Christ’s mandate to love our neighbors, rudeness and incivilities are out the window. I love Martin Luther’s explanations of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism. It’s not that we are not to kill – most of us can keep that commandment. “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.” (Luther’s explanation of the 5th Commandment) And I’m pretty sure that being rude and tearing down a person isn’t providing help and support!
That whole thing in the 4th Commandment about honoring our parents? Luther says that we are to “neither despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead, honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.” We seem to be in short supply of those things too.
On not bearing false witness (8th Commandment), Luther tells us that “we are to come [to our neighbor’s] defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” That can’t be what Joe, Serena or Kanye had in mind.
In the end, we can only change our own behaviors. May I suggest pulling out your copy of the Small Catechism and reading it again? It can only help us as we try to achieve our purpose that includes working towards health and wholeness in the church, the society and the world.