True confession: I don’t like everyone.
I probably like you… probably. But, maybe not.
I know this probably doesn’t sound very kind, compassionate, pastoral, or even Christian. But, it’s true.
I don’t like everyone.
Some people offend me. Some people annoy me. Some people rub me wrong. Some people, for whatever reason, are hard for me to be with. Some people are too abrasive for me. Some are too self-centered. (Ironically, maybe my self-centeredness clashing against their self-centeredness is part of the problem! If they could just get their self-centeredness out of my way, my self-centeredness would be so much happier!)
Sometimes, it’s the language a person uses. Sometimes, it’s their volume and tone of voice. Sometimes, it’s the cavalier way a person expresses opinions. Sometimes, it’s a person’s arrogance. Sometimes – this will sound particularly judgmental – it’s a person’s ignorance.
I’ll admit, I may be the one with the problem. Perhaps I’m too sensitive, too easily offended, too prejudiced, or too opinionated. Just because I don’t like someone, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re at fault. Me being offended, doesn’t necessarily make someone else the offender. That I disagree with someone, doesn’t necessarily make me right. Or, maybe, you’re just not my “type.” But, knowing these things doesn’t make me like them any more.
Can I choose to like someone? Maybe. Honestly, I’m not sure.
Can I treat someone I dislike with respect. ABSOLUTELY.
Whether or not I like someone, want to spend time with them, or enjoy their company has nothing to do with this TRUTH: every person, without exception, is created in the image and likeness of God, and deserves to be treated as such.
Admittedly, it’s easier for me to see the image of God in some people more than others. And, in my estimation, some people are keeping the image of God too-well hidden behind too many layers of ego, hubris, and callousness. Regardless, the divine spark is within each of us, no matter how deeply it’s buried, or hidden from view by my own self-imposed blindness.
While I may not like a person, I CAN choose to treat that person with the dignity and respect due to any and every child of God. I can also choose NOT to honor their inherent dignity. The difference is civility. Even as I’m being offended, turned-off, annoyed, etc., I CAN be civil – or, at least, strive to be.
William Sloane Coffin writes, “At its most profound, civility has little to do with taste, everything to do with truth. And the truth it affirms, in religious terms, is that everyone, from the pope to the loneliest wino on the planet, is a child of God, equal in dignity, deserving of respect… Such a belief obviously celebrates rather than fears our human differences.”
I may not necessarily celebrate every person’s opinion, choice of words, fashion-sense, or stance on a particular topic. Yet, none of that negates this fundamental truth: we’re all children of God.
Also true: we’re all IMPERFECT children of God, including me.
Another truth: seeing the image of God in a person who annoys or offends is really, really hard! Thus, honoring a truth we can’t always see requires a particular disposition toward ALL people. It requires courtesy and respect.
I don’t have to like someone to be courteous and respectful.
I’ve recently befriended a preschool security guard, employed to ensure the safety of children and their families. He is consistently friendly, respectful, and conscientious. He offers a friendly salute and “hello” to every person he meets, and every car that passes. But, he’s mentioned, on several occasions, how frequently people pass him without the slightest nod or wave. While employed to keep their children safe, he’s unworthy of common courtesy.
How sad, and disrespectful, is that?
John O’Donohue writes, “Courtesy is the unacknowledged heart of civility; it is a disposition towards others which is graceful, polite, kind and considerate. Courtesy also includes some sense of old-world formality; it is the opposite of coarseness and self-presuming familiarity. Courtesy invites dignity.”
Coarseness – there’s way TOO much coarseness these days.
As a person of faith, I may not like everyone (I don’t), but I can and must treat all people with dignity and respect. I may not respect a person’s politics, their taste in music, the jokes they tell, their recreational choices, their affiliations and allegiances, their philosophical leanings, or their smell. But, I can choose to treat every person I encounter with the same courtesy and respect, acknowledging their inherent dignity as children of God. To do so is a conscious choice, grounded in a particular theological outlook.
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t differentiate between the neighbor I like, and the neighbor I loathe.
I do wonder this: how often, I wonder, is what I dislike about another person mostly surface-level. Sometimes, what I find most irritating, offensive, or distasteful in another, may simply be an expression of their insecurity, inner pain, limited knowledge or experience, culture, fear, lack of education, or just bad manners. Perhaps, when I’m too easily turned-off, I lose the opportunity to discover someone’s less offensive, more admirable qualities.
And, what if, we only discover the image of God in the other, no matter how offensive they may be to us, when we treat them with civility, courtesy, and respect. Perhaps only courtesy unlocks the door to a person’s deeper, more pleasing qualities.
Let’s be honest, there’s not a lot of civility in our world, today. Even the words “civility” and “courtesy” sound old-fashioned, or as O’Donohue writes, “old-world.” These days, name-calling, insensitivity, coarseness and hate are socially acceptable. Many, these days, seem to relish in the freedom to speak their minds, no matter how reckless or hurtful their words may be.
The Bible offers wise advice regarding our words: “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29)
EVERYTHING I say? To EVERYONE??? Admittedly, that’s hard.
This doesn’t mean I can’t be honest or truthful. It doesn’t mean I can’t express my own opinion or perspective. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak out – in fact, sometimes I must.
It does mean, when I speak to or about another person, I must speak in the most civil, courteous, encouraging, helpful, respectful ways possible.
And, when I do, it may not make any difference at all.
But, it might.