A number of years ago I sat down with a young man in our church who was very upset with another leader in the church. His primary grievance was that he felt that the leader showed him no respect. After listening to this young man and getting a picture from his point of view, I attempted to expand the very narrow vision of his recollections and began to cite the many, many incidents of him not only showing disrespect to the leader, but several episodes of downright belligerence and malice towards the leader and his family (the most recent of which prompted the very conversation we were having). The young man defiantly justified all of his actions with this response, “Well, he (the leader) needs to earn my respect.”
If you have any sense of maturity in you, reading that response probably caused you to cringe. As I continued to converse with this young man, I attempted (to little avail since he was so intrenched in his own arrogance) to realign his warped sense of reality. He felt that the leader – the one placed in authority over him and given responsibility for him – should have to earn his respect, but that he himself should simply be given respect outright by any and all. The hubris emanating from him was such that it acted as a protective barrier keeping him from receiving any knowledge, logic, correction, or just plain common sense.
Respect seems to be a rare gem these days. Customers are rude to people in customer service. Customer service representatives are rude to customers. Drivers are rude to others on the road. Children are rude to parents. Subordinates are rude to their superiors. The young disrespect their elders and people are absolutely obnoxious to others on social media. It is obvious to me that we need more coffee shops where people can pull themselves together and respectfully converse over a fresh cup of coffee.
We really need to rediscover the art of respecting one another. That art begins by giving respect, not looking for it from others. When we communicate with condescending tones towards others, we shouldn’t be surprised when we receive rebuke in return. It is absurd to verbally assault someone and then expect them to respond with a curtsey and kindly thank us. There is a better, more mature, way to treat people and get one’s point across. This should begin by respecting positions of authority or age.
We are told in 1 Timothy 5:1, “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers”. This is not to suggest that one can only teach or, as necessity may demand, even correct someone who is younger. Nor is the verse telling us that there is nothing one can learn from someone younger than ourselves. Indeed, I have learned from younger and older alike. As a pastor, it is my task to teach both those who are younger and older than I am and, on rare occasions, bring correction if it is required. In fact, Timothy, to whom the Apostle Paul addressed this epistle, was a young pastor leading a congregation of believers who were of various ages.
The point being made is that respect needs to be given to those who are older than us if we wish to articulate a position or facilitate the reception of a message. If you begin a dialog with someone with the intent to teach or make a point and you are the younger, it does you no good to come off like a schoolmarm scolding the elder. Think about it this way; would you receive correction from a five-year-old if they spoke down to you like you were somehow inferior to their five-year intellect? Even if that child was correct on that one particular matter, it would not make them equal in authority to you or the respect that is due to you given your age, experience, and/or possible position of authority. By giving respect where it is due because of position and/or age, one will earn respect in the sight of others all around.
You cannot decide the behavior of another, but you can choose the way in which you will conduct yourself. However, if enough people start offering respect to others then perhaps, just maybe, our society and our conversations will return to some sense of civility. It is certainly a worthwhile goal to strive for anyway.
Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.