Courtesy… Such a Lonely Word…
September 17, 2020 | Didi Bacon
Okay, all you younger folks, this post's title is a variation on the 1979 Billy Joel song, "Honesty." The lines to the chorus of the song are as follows:
Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you
If the cry was for honesty in 1979, one could make a case that today's cry needs to be for courtesy in 2020.
Merriam Webster defines courtesy as the "behavior marked by polished manners or respect for others."
Courtesy is caught in good old-fashioned "please" and "thank you." It happens by not eating with your mouth open. It occurs by treating others with respect and dignity. It is giving up your seat for an elderly person to sit.
Make no mistake, though, courtesy is so much more than being nice. It is chivalry, a strength used to serve and honor another.
I did some study through scripture to see if the word courtesy is ever used as a characteristic of a Jesus-follower. I did not find the word, courtesy, specifically. But, I noticed the concept in many descriptions of mature followers of Christ.
In the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he clearly describes what it looks like to be a mature Christ-follower. 1 Corinthians 13 is often called the "love chapter." Love is the highest ideal to live by for the Christian. If you want to know what a person living out God's Word looks like, then read 1 Corinthians 13. If you want to assess whether you are growing in Christ, I recommend that you substitute the word "love" in these verses and insert your name. If the description you read is an accurate description of you, you can rejoice at the transformation of God's grace in your life. If the description is not accurate, well, then you will see the areas of your life that you are still in need of the maturity only following Jesus can bring.
Regarding the issue of courtesy, I would like to focus on the first line of 1 Corinthians 13:5. It turns out that the Greek text contains a somewhat tricky word to translate into English. The Greek word is ἀσχημονέω (aschēmoneō) and denotes the idea, "to act unseemly." Love does not act aschēmoneō. The literal meaning of the word is "to be shapeless or without form." Figuratively, then, it means to act "in bad form." Our various English translations give us several angles regarding this word.
The 2011 New International Version reads: "It (love) does not dishonor others…"
The New American Standard Bible says, "[Love] does not act unbecomingly…" According to Merriam Webster, to act unbecomingly means a failure to "act according to the standards appropriate to one's position or condition of life."
The New Living Translation says, simply, "love is not 'rude.'"
The King James Version reads, "(love) doth not behave itself unseemly…" According to Merriam Webster, unseemly means not acting "according to established standards of good form or taste."
The most interesting rendition of the word aschēmoneō comes from The Message Bible, a paraphrase rather than a proper translation. Here the description of love is conveyed as, "[Love] doesn't force itself on others…"
When I investigate what Paul writes regarding love, when he says love is not aschēmoneō, I am confident that we could say that love is courteous. The mature, committed, living-by-the-Holy-Spirit Jesus follower is courteous. She is a person of polished manners and respect for others.
So what does courtesy look like today? Let me share a few ideas.
Courtesy happens when one looks at a server in the eye and says thank you to him for his service. It also occurs when one leaves the server a tip of at least 20%.
Courtesy happens when you choose to wear your mask because you know that others in the room are very uncomfortable talking to you when you do not wear it. Some folks are uncomfortable being in the same place with you because you are not wearing your mask.
Courtesy occurs when you open the door for a lady to walk into a building (men) and not being offended (ladies), just merely saying, "thank you."
Courtesy happens when you turn off your mic during a group zoom meeting to help others hear the speaker better.
Courtesy is putting down your phone in a meeting or gathering and being engaged in the conversation.
Courtesy is conveyed by being mindful that letting someone in front of you on the road is not always the best thing to do as it might cause an accident, or it might be discourteous to the line of traffic behind you.
Courtesy is being mindful that those sitting around the table with you have to watch you eat. Seeing your food being chewed is discourteous. Hearing you eat your food is discourteous.
Courtesy means not interrupting someone when they are speaking. It is listening to understand, not to formulate your reply. It is not looking to dominate the conversational airwaves with your opinions.
Courtesy is being aware that there is an appropriate way to dress for each social occasion. What we wear in the privacy of our home might not be right in the company of friends.
Courtesy is choosing to assume the best while scoping out the facts. Instead of sending that email or making that comment regarding something upsetting you, approach your friend by asking, "Hey, help me understand this…"
I recommend a great book called Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler in learning how to do this.
Love is not rude, unseemly, unbecoming, dishonoring of others, or forces itself on others. Love is being courteous. The courteous person is not weak or passive. Quite the contrary, to operate with restraint to honor another takes quite a bit of strength. That's the nature of God's love.
Courtesy is such a lonely word these days. But it cannot be for Jesus-followers.
How are you growing in this kind of love?