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How to Model Passionate Politeness

My wife and I (Jason) have two children. As parents, we have found more than one situation where we disapprove of how one of the kids is treating their sibling. We will say something like, “Be kind!” or, “Stop being selfish!” When one considers these commands outside of the moment, it becomes easy to see the absurdity of that ask. We may as well say, “Stop acting like children!” Instead, we need to patiently and consistently coach them to develop the inner desire to treat each other well. The same principle applies with internalizing civility. It takes work and time to develop. One does not suddenly decide to “turn on” this approach and commitment to others.

An approach of convicted civility, for a Christian, should begin with how we present ourselves to others. We are called to be Christlike, which means that we reflect the kindness and gentleness of God. It will lend credibility and legitimacy to your conversation if you have established yourself as a reputable agent of God’s righteousness. This by no means implies you must be perfect, but an honest attempt at public righteousness will make the message more credible as we have a “legitimate” invite for others to be more like us.

Mouw outlines the practical attitudes that one can develop to present this posture of civility when encountering those different from us. Empathy is the first. This is sometimes analogized as “walking in another’s shoes” or “sitting in their seat.” Mouw describes this approach as reducing psychological distance7 between you and another. He describes empathy as developing a “want” to learn about others. By becoming familiar with the experience of those different from us, we reduce our self-centeredness and come closer to God’s purpose for us.8
The next attitude Mouw mentions—one that will enhance the attitude of empathy—is a good dose of curiosity. Developing a healthy desire to better understand the world God has created, including the beliefs of the beings he created in it, will help us step out of our own understandings and discover the “whys” of others.9 If you want to help someone by adding or changing an idea they currently hold, it makes sense that you explore what ideas are there already and how they got there.

Muow delves into a third aspect of convicted civility, which is an attitude of being teachable.10 This could be described as the humble acknowledgement that we can all learn from one another.
We must maintain a humble posture that assumes no matter what opinions we hold, those opposing our views may have lessons for us also. He underlines his point this way: “No matter how antagonistic a perspective may be toward things we hold precious, we should be at least willing to listen… God often instructs believers in unpredictable ways. The prophet Balaam was corrected by words that came from the mouth of his donkey. A group of pagan sailors confronted Jonah with the fact that he was trying to run from the call of God…. The Lord often sends teachers our way. We need to be open to the lessons he wants us to learn from them.”11 Despite any judgment of others’ ideas, right or wrong, you can learn from the dialogue you share.

This is an excerpt from Conviction and Civility, a Renew resource, which you can download for free here.

Notes:

[6] Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency, second ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 32.
[7] Ibid., 58.
[8] Ibid., 59.
[9] Ibid., 60.
[10] Ibid., 61.
[11] Ibid., 62.

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