I have just spent a wonderful week with a three and a half year old. I don’t do this every week so it is a special treat and a reminder of how lovable, imaginative, and, oh yes, energetic they can be. Because several of those days were also spent at theme parks, over-stimulation and fatigue provided a reminder of how cranky they can be as well. Since we adults can also be over-stimulated and fatigued (and even cranky), it can be a challenge to address the behaviors that arise. In our best moments, we remind our little one again of what is acceptable behavior and what we expect. In our best moments, we do not say or do things which diminish his personhood. We do not tell him that he is bad for what he wants (another ride, a toy, a treat). We do tell him that rudeness is not acceptable. Sometimes we tell him over and over again… in our best moments.
When we are in the adult world, sometimes it works the same way. We can become cranky even without the benefit of a theme-park. Sometimes, when people get cranky, the people around them do the same. We end up with one great spiral of rude and cranky behavior. Instead of reminding people of what is acceptable and what we expect, we begin to say or do things that diminish people’s personhood. We tell people that they are bad. These are not our best moments.
The world wide web had given us new opportunities for learning about how to negotiate human interaction. Too often, we behave on the web in ways we would never behave face-to-face. So, sometimes we have to say to people, the way you are behaving is not acceptable. It is rude. It is doing harm. Sometimes they will hear it. Sometimes they will not. We cannot, as with a three-year-old, pick them up and physically remove them from the situation. We can, however, state our expectations, if necessary, over and over again.
When my grandson is cranky, his reply to having the error of his ways pointed out is to say once again, “But, I WANT a Buzz Lightyear doll.” The pattern with adults is similar but more subtle. It sounds more like, “My complaint about other people is so important that it is ok for me to be rude. If you understood the brilliance of my argument, you would not think I am being rude.” When they are told, “No, really, I do understand your argument, I still think you are being rude.” They simply restate their argument… sometimes adding remarks that question the motives of their critics, sometimes questioning their emotional or spiritual health. The spiral could start downward. That would be unfortunately, so we simple say, again, “No, really, I do understand your argument, I still think you are being rude.”
Turns out I have nothing against people’s well articulated, constructive criticism of others. Heck, I have nothing against Buzz Lightyear! I do have a problem with rude behavior. And while I feel a bit like a broken record this week, I will state my expectation over and over again… for the sake of my grandson and for the sake of the future of the religious movement I love.