Monday, November 23, 2009

Dealing with Rude People (and other enemies)

In a posting entitled "How to deal with rude people," the Rev. Mark Brown, an Anglican priest in New Zealand, offers thoughtful reflections on this verse from the Gospel according to Luke: "But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you" (Lk 6:27).

Recently someone I hardly know was unbelievably rude to me, and my initial reaction was to get angry and upset, and try and work out a way of getting back at them. My reaction certainly wasn’t to love them and be nice to them – and this is why this reading is so tremendously challenging.

Enemies in the greek is those who are rude and hostile towards us, people who for whatever reason treat us badly. And rather than lash out Jesus challenges us to respond in a completely different way. The first word is Love which in the greek is agapao and literally means to have generous concern for, to value and esteem, to be faithful towards and delight in. And then there is good which in the greek is kalos and refers to speaking well of someone, praising and applauding them.

So if someone is rude to me or treats me badly Jesus is saying that I am to treat them with considerable respect like they are a close special friend or dear family member… wow.

While it is critically important to note the implications of Jesus' teaching for Christians whose faith literally puts their lives at risk (as the examples of confessors and martyrs past and present testify), Fr. Mark's reflections invite those of us who are fortunate enough to live in less life-threatening social contexts to apply this teaching in ways we may not have thought about. This includes seemingly small things, like how we respond when someone cuts us off in traffic, breaks in line ahead of us at the store, plays passive/aggressive to undermine us at work, or says or does something rude to us in any number of other ways.

Jesus invites us to take the role of the rude other by imagining what it must be like to be him or her. Reflecting on our own experience of why we've been rude to others in the past is a good place to start. Didn't we feel justified for acting that way at the time? So instead of going with the knee-jerk reaction of lashing out, Jesus invites us to respond with a compassion born from an awareness of how we are like the person whose rudeness we find offensive. Such awareness could be a beginning for breaking the all-too-common cycle of a tit-for-tat rudeness that easily surfaces in the busyness of our everyday lives, but which, when escalated, can lead to violence.

When it comes to living the Christian life, the small stuff really does matter.


Mark Brown said...

Greetings Fr. Bryan,

I very much appreciate your words! The importance of empathy, thanks!


Austin said...

Very well put! I am glad you quoted this my friend I especially love the part about taking on their role for yourself it is good to exersize forgiveness and to try to emulate how God would go about

Anonymous said...

simple fact is you must not let others manipulate your emotions, if you do, they win, you lose. You are in control of your emotions, no one else! Lets say negativity is baggage, let them carry the bags, don't encumber yourself with such things, life is short, but can be incredibly fun, encourage yourself to enjoy it, everyday, every minute.Smile and people will smile back...JC