Recently, on the same day but at different times during that day, I had very similar conversations with two of my grown daughters…
The first conversation started because of a clear demonstration of road rage that we witnessed between two other drivers. The second conversation started as a result of watching someone become irate and argumentative with someone almost instantaneously after being “offended”, when in fact, he was the real offender. His reaction started by being indignant and ended up with him changing the whole course of the conflict to being about him being the victim, rather than the person doing the offending.
Both scenes were spectacular, really. Kind of like a bad accident you drive by – you don’t want to stare at something so horrible, but you can’t help yourself. It was easy, as spectators, to watch these different scenarios unfold and see what was really going on.
In both cases, the angry person was blaming anyone and everyone other than themselves for their troubles. They were quick and insistent on pointing fingers and calling others (among other things) the jerk.
And as we watched these scenarios play out in front of us (and a whole lot of other people as well!) I couldn’t help but wonder … “If he’s the jerk, why should you be so upset?”
If he’s the jerk, and cut you off without giving any warning or signal, why should that upset you to the point of rage?
If he’s the jerk, and was inconsiderate enough to have purposely turned slowly enough to make you have to wait for another light, why should your response be to yell and curse and scream?
If he’s the jerk, and selfishly and thoughtlessly ruined your work, why is your reaction to yell and whine and complain?
He’s been the inconsiderate one. He’s been the thoughtless one. He’s been the one without manners.
If he’s the jerk, and truly offended you by his words or actions it says a lot about him.
It says he’s insensitive and rude, or maybe cowardly, or arrogant, or harsh, or mean-spirited, or even malicious and despicable – or a whole host of other things all at the same time…
But your response says a lot about you as well.
Did you catch that? Your response says a lot about you as well.
When we rage because of someone else’s thoughtlessness or unkindness or rudeness or … whatever, we are declaring for all the world to hear that we believe ourselves to be entitled to better treatment than what we’ve just received. We think that we are owed politeness and consideration and complimentary words.
I’m all for good manners and pleasant behavior between the members of mankind, really I am. But I don’t think we can go so far as to feel entitled to it. We train our children to consider others. We train ourselves to hold our tongues. We like to think we are able to live by the “Golden Rule” – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
But can we demand it? Are we entitled to it?
The following passages from Scripture come to mind very quickly when I’m tempted to think so:
“What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that you consider him?” Psalm 8:4
“How much less a mortal, who is but a maggot – a human being, who is but a worm”, Job 25:6
“Man that is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.” Job 14:1
“For man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.” Job 5:7
“Do not be surprised if the world hates you,” I John 3:13
I don’t know – it seems to me that we should pretty much expect trouble and be happy when it doesn’t come our way.
We have a saying in our house that applies: “Circumstances never excuse bad behavior or attitudes. Never.”
There is never a time when someone else’s rudeness entitles me to be rude. There is never a time when someone else’s thoughtlessness entitles me to be thoughtless. There is never a time when someone else’s hurtfulness entitles me to turn around and be hurtful. Never.
When people do those things, they are indeed sinful, but when I respond the same way it is never justified – it’s just adding another person to the sinful pile.
Paul Tripp uses a water bottle to demonstrate the same principle. When he’s giving his talk he unscrews the lid of a water bottle and shakes the bottle enough so that water comes spilling out over the top and onto the floor.
He then asks, “Why did the water spill out of the water bottle?”
Invariably, people’s first response is to say, “Because you shook it and it spilled!”
But that is not the right answer.
It spilled water, because the bottle was filled with water. It didn’t spill tea or soda or juice, but water. The fact that it was shaken is largely irrelevant to the question. What was in the bottle was what came out of the bottle.
It’s a small, but significant difference, isn’t it?
Amy Carmichael says the same thing a little differently. She wrote, “A cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.”
So, back to my question – if he’s the jerk, why are you reacting so badly? If his bad behavior has jostled you, why is that spilling out?
It was easy for my daughters and me to look at these particular situations and see two people behaving badly. But it is harder to look at myself and recognize when I’m doing the same. But I must. And so must you.
Circumstances never excuse bad behavior or attitudes. Never.
God is far from silent on the matter. He says:
“But I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28
“Do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” I Peter 3:9
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
If your attitudes or behavior are not what they ought to be, it’s time to examine what is filling you up – because it will spill out.