Bringing Courtesy and Kindness to the World Around Us
by Jill Savage/Illustration by Shelley Couvillion
It was obvious they’d been talking about me.
Early in my sophomore year of high school I had walked up to a group of girls talking in the hallway outside the band room when they suddenly went quiet. I was embarrassed, insecure and angry because I thought several of those girls were my friends. I wanted to lash out and give them a piece of my mind.
It was one of the first times I remember being at a Y in the road of my life where I could choose to either react in anger or respond with civility. And there was a battle going on inside me—a struggle between what I felt like doing and what I knew I needed to do.
Civility may not be a term you are familiar with, but it’s a character trait that Christians are called to exemplify in the world. When we’re civil toward others, it simply means we are polite, kind, courteous and respectful. And the need for civility can apply to situations both in person and online. After all, it’s tempting to be impolite and disrespectful, even harsh, when the person we’re reacting to isn’t standing right in front of us.
Y’s in the road
Life is made up of so many opportunities to make a quick decision about how we’re going to respond to the circumstances we’re facing—and civility may not be our initial response. In fact, on any given day most of us face dozens of Y’s in the road as we interact with people around us. We find ourselves in situations in which we can choose civility—or not— as we engage with friends, family members, teachers, co-workers, neighbors and strangers. Consider a few examples:
Kind or cruel: You’re hanging with a group of girls when someone suggests being mean to the quiet girl in the lunchroom. You immediately find yourself having to choose between kindness and cruelty.
Respectful or disrespectful: Your teacher asks you a question, and you’re frustrated. The tone of voice in your answer can be either respectful or disrespectful.
Courteous or inconsiderate: You can practice civility at home, too. Imagine your sister is telling a story, but you don’t think she has all the details right. You can be courteous by letting her tell the story in her own way, or you can be inconsiderate by interrupting her and pushing your way into the conversation.
Polite or rude: A classmate posts something online that annoys you, and you are tempted to react with a harsh comment. You can be polite by either choosing to keep silent or by offering a compassionate comment. Or you can be rude by posting that harsh response you originally thought of. Civil or uncivil: Which will you choose?
The habit of civility
And then there’s the reality that sometimes we don’t recognize the Y’s we encounter because we’ve developed a habit of typically responding the same way in similar circumstances. But just like we can develop personal habits by doing the same things over and over, we can develop character habits by repeatedly choosing civility in our reactions to people and circumstances.
Speaking of habits, one way we learn to identify the Y’s in the road is by recognizing when we fall into an old habit and react unkindly. That’s when we need to back up, apologize and choose a different response. Yes, some habits can be hard to break, but what’s most important is what we do when we mess up.
Jesus modeled civility to the people around Him, and there’s much we can learn from looking at what He taught and how He responded. Consider the fact that Jesus showed kindness to the woman at the well (John 4:4-26) and chose to dine with Zacchaeus, the wealthy tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). In a culture that would’ve treated these two individuals with disrespect or unkindness, Jesus was courteous. He showed respect toward people who were typically shunned by their community.
Jesus showed us the way to respond with civility in a culture that accepts so much less. As His followers, we can learn to respond differently than we might initially be feeling. We can bring honesty, respect, courtesy and kindness to the world around us.
Jill Savage is the author of No More Perfect Moms and No More Perfect Kids.