The Golden Rule of Communication
None of us can stand it when people are unfriendly and mean-spirited toward us. We know kindness is fundamental to building trust whether in the family, the neighborhood, the legislature, or the workplace. We avoid unsympathetic, inconsiderate, and nasty neighbors, and we take our business elsewhere when a store owner treats us in an uncaring and callous way.
But when we are pushed to the edge and feel kindness is getting us nowhere, do we turn unpleasant, disagreeable, and uncivil? Do we compromise kindness to get what we want or to prevent losing what we have? Do we appear hostile and contemptuous? Do we intimidate? Do we bully? Do we use abusive speech? Or, are we committed to speaking lovingly and respectfully no matter what because we have resolved to be a loving and respectful human being?
Do we intend to do toward others what we expect them to do toward us? We will be kind and civil because we expect such treatment given the roles were reversed.
Ryan Anderson, an intellectual who espouses traditional values on college campuses, encountered something quite sobering on this topic of civility. Author Mary Eberstadt wrote about Anderson, “This exchange between Anderson and a New York Times reporter moved me to tears: ‘[While] Anderson repeatedly made the case for civility and respect for opposing perspectives, the reporter responded with “Why shouldn’t I call you names?” and “Civility is not always a virtue” and “Some people are deserving of incivility” and “obviously some policy views render people unworthy of respect.” Anderson explained, “people are always worthy of respect, even if their policy views are misguided. Nothing renders people ‘unworthy of respect.’ He continued: 'I think even when we vehemently disagree with someone the person still has innate human dignity, still worthy of respect.'”
This attitude of the New York Times reporter is beyond the comprehension of some of us. "Surely people do not believe this?" But they do. They truly believe that civility is not a virtue when they deem you wrong. Incivility is justified. Unkindness is kindness in their distorted opinion. This sounds like the Gestapo from Nazi Germany. The ends justifies unkind means. Incivility is good. Hate and contempt, not love and respect, are necessary to advance the agenda.
However, we know unkindness and incivility is wrong. If the roles were reversed, those treated with unkindness and incivility would protest such treatment. They'd be spitting mad. Can not the New York Times reporter recognize this? How can such a reporter, then, expect the Golden Rule applied to him but not apply the Golden Rule to others? This boggles the mind. He wants others to abide by that standard when communicating with him but wishes to refuse that right to Ryan Anderson. Is this reporter the new secular Pharisee who is self-righteous, angry, judgmental, and damning? Does he envision himself as having divine rights but someone like Ryan Anderson deserves stoning?
Let’s make it personal now. How about you—do you communicate kindly?
In applying this to marriage, God commands the husband to love his wife and a wife to respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33). As a wife do you disrespectfully tell your husband to love you? As a husband do you unlovingly tell your wife to respect you?
Though the end is worthy (to be loved and respected), how can we use unholy means (unloving and disrespectful words and actions) to achieve those ends? How can we disobey God's command to us to love and respect as a way of motivating our spouse to obey God's command to them to love and respect us? This makes no sense. This is hypocritical. This is a violation of the Golden Rule of treating others as we wish to be treated. How can we mistreat others as a way of motivating them to treat us well? That's ludicrous.
Every wife knows that her husband's unloving actions toward her do not motivate her to respect him, so how can she be disrespectful to motivate him to love her? And, every husband knows that his wife's disrespectful actions toward him do not motivate him to love her, so how can he be unloving to motivate her to respect him?
Let us determine to communicate with kindness—with love and respect. That’s what we expect others to do toward us.
Questions to Consider
- Answering honestly, how do you tend to respond to strangers when you feel kindness is not getting you anywhere? How do you respond to your spouse?
- Though you probably do not agree with the New York Times reporter’s ideology that incivility can be justified, when have you possibly been guilty of communicating this belief through your actions?
- Have you ever disrespectfully told your husband to love you or unlovingly told your wife to respect you? How did that turn out?
- In your opinion, what is the most difficult aspect of speaking with kindness at all times, even when it may seem easy to justify speaking without civility?
- What is your opinion of the following information? Voltaire exclaimed, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Our Founding Fathers subscribed to the belief that one's own liberty is not safe until the other person's liberty is guarded. Those who do not allow others to speak, will themselves be prohibited at some point. All of us must promote and protect the right of others to communicate what they think is true, kind, necessary, and clear even if we despise the content. If we do not safeguard each's right to communicate, we will lose our own. Edmund Burke wrote, “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.”