Why Be Nice

I may have some good qualities, but patience is not one of them. Examples of this could be drawn from too many areas of my life, but we’ll look at one. Traffic lights. I hate to say it, but I don’t like being at them, especially when they are red. I particularly don’t like being at really long ones, i.e., more than five seconds. The longest are the 6-way intersections along highway on-ramps. Oh so frustrating. Then, when you have been there a while (which I’ve counted, it’s rarely more than two minutes), the light turns green and the person in front of you doesn’t immediately go. Immediately. I am working on it, but I am way too over-anxious to honk my horn at these people.

            There may be some that she does like but this is not a characteristic of mine that my wife appreciates. She has far more empathy than I do, and she has tried—as a way to help me see it from the perspective of these folks who suffer from go-hesitancy—to point out that it is possible that there is something tragic occurring in this person’s life.

            My wife has attempted to give me the idea that perhaps the person is experiencing some tragedy in their life and so I should be more patient. This kind of counsel does not resonate with me. While I do not want anything bad to happen to anyone the norms of society remain even when bad situations happen. True, it is not a societal norm to make sure Quentin doesn’t get impatient, that is a problem for me, but there are expectations for driving and sometimes I get irritated with ones that truly are violations of those expectations. How can it be that—even if perhaps there is something bad happening to them—they get a pass at following those expectations. That doesn’t work for me.

            I actually come across this sort of thing quite often. I work in education and it is a regular occurrence that a student is not doing well. School can be difficult for people. Sometimes when I communicate the struggle the student is having to interested parties, I start to hear of all the adversity the student is facing. Sometimes it sounds like very real difficulties. Other times, not so much. But, regardless of the level and genuineness of the adversity, it doesn’t change the fact that the student needs to complete their assignments satisfactorily to pass the course.  I rarely hear, “we have to help this student.” Instead, I hear, “We have to help this student because they are depressed, suffer anxiety, some other like thing.” The reason for the student’s trouble is what warrants the need for help. Again, this does not resonate with me. I’m all for helping the student to the level that I’m allowed to help them, but I rarely care about the reason the student needs help. It’s enough that I can help them. The thing I run into is that we can find an appropriate excuse that warrants the student’s help. Otherwise, I guess they are on their own.

            This is the same in traffic. It’s not I shouldn’t be impatient because this person may have a bad life.  I shouldn’t be impatient. Full stop (as they say). This is the Christian ethic. “God demonstrates His love for us this way: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The way we got to be sinners was because of active conscience chosen rebellion against God. It’s not “while we were yet sinners and were having a bad day Christ died for us.” “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3).

Now it is true that in a sense we do have an excuse. After our disobedience in Adam, we became fully in need of full deliverance. We couldn’t save ourselves and God is the only One Who could. So, there’s that. I’m not God to those folks in traffic dispensing divine grace. No, I’m one of them. A real piece of work that God is exhibiting His love through. “Beloved if God loved us this way, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). That’s the ethic.

            I think the empathetic excuses imply that there is some level of merit that is needed to cause us to be gracious to the person. “Come on, he’s not so bad, and after all think about what is or might be going on in his life, we should be nice.” The truth is I shouldn’t be impatient with the fella even if he’s a domestic abuser and a child molester and a Communist. Maybe he’s having the best day of his life and just doesn’t care about the traffic rules so navigates the roads his own way. Guess what? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).


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