Love is … not rude. (I Corinthians 13:4-5)
When I taught middle school speech, the first day of class the students were greeted with Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
The first order of business after taking attendance was to go over the class rules and guidelines. Key word: “Respect.” I gave them handouts so they would have in writing what it means to respect the teacher, respect the other students, respect school property, and respect themselves. It took a good portion of the class time, but it was time well spent. There would never be any confusion about what was expected of them in this class.
Over the years we had various ways to reinforce the “Respect” theme. There was the game I invented, called “Say WHAT?” The kids would divide into teams and brainstorm alternative ways of expressing themselves besides the obscenities and profanities we’ve come to know and hate. We even has a “jargon jail” on the wall, where certain words and phrases were put “behind bars,” with lists of alternatives posted below. (The strategic use of the bars kept the words from being on display in their entirety.)
I’m not sure, but I think the assistant principal might have heard something about “Say WHAT?” One day in the cafeteria, a student stood up and yelled to another student on the other side of the room, “JOHNSON, YOU SUCK!” To his surprise, the student felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. Turning around, he found himself face to face with the assistant principal!
“I think you mean, ‘Johnson, you appear to be an individual with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.'”
The student yelled across the cafeteria, “WHAT HE SAID!”
The students were taught that the use of profanity can mean a number of things, none of them very flattering. Continued use of certain words ad nauseum (You know what those words are.) can be not only tiresome, but a sign that
1.) the speaker is uneducated with a very small vocabulary,
2.) the speaker is just too lazy to come up with a more interesting way of saying things, or
3.) (back to the original theme) that the speaker is not very respectful of the person (s)he is speaking to.
The kids were taught the benefit of using language effectively. Solomon’s book of Proverbs has much to say about the power of words, and none of that wisdom has changed over the centuries.
Speech class was not only about speaking words. Communication also involves tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, and body language. I realized very few students were deliberately rude or lazy, they just had never been taught how to effectively communicate in a positive way. My middle school boys were behaving the same way boys did when I was that age – and that’s been quite a while! These young men were of the mistaken opinion that a good way to get a girl’s attention was to be crude, or even mean.
Burp, she’ll think it’s funny! Trip her in the hall, that‘ll get her attention! I had my work cut out for me.
By the second or third week of the semester, my class had the opening routine down. The classroom was set up with rows of tables, two chairs at each table. The students were seated with a boy and a girl at each table, so each boy had a girl to practice treating with respect. The students would set their books on the tables and remained standing until everyone was in his or her place.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I’d say, “you may be seated.”
At that point, the “gentlemen” would pull out the “ladies'” chairs, the young ladies would smile and say “Thank you,” and be seated. Once the ladies were seated, the young men would take their seats.
Having a cute young girl smile at them, and say “Thank you” was a revelation to the guys. (Wow! So, girls actually like it when you treat ’em nice?! Who’d of thunk it?)
The other teachers had thought I was insane, but to their surprise, the kids loved it! So did at least one parent. At parent/teacher conference, one mom went on and on about how her son was now holding the chair for her and opening house doors, car doors, mall doors …
I have started to look back on these lessons when I hear or read the disrespectful words of adults who should know better on social media, in the news, and in group texts.
My alma mater has a large group email that keeps us all up to date on one another’s lives – marriages, births of children and grandchildren, deaths of parents, and more recently, sad news of the passing of classmates themselves or their spouses. As the emails were circulating regarding next year’s reunion, one classmate said she refused to get together with people who insulted her. To make sure we understood, she attached a meme someone had posted on social media insulting people of a certain political persuasion, which she had apparently taken personally. A few fiery responses made the rounds, and one dignified classmate responded simply, “Oh my …” Subsequent emails expressed affection for classmates, whatever their beliefs.
Never one to remain silent, I opined that we have each arrived at our convictions based on our education, experience, personalities, beliefs, and the information we have. (Nobody knows the whole story.) I added that none of us is stupid, and I would never assume that anyone just blindly follows a point of view without reason. I hoped that we could remain friends, maybe exchange ideas respectfully, and possibly even learn something from listening to one another.
I got a private email from the moderator, thanking me and ending with “Respect. What a concept.”
Prayer: Lord, You know our weaknesses. We all struggle with different issues – rudeness, pride, judgmental attitudes, self-centeredness, and other qualities that do not glorify You. We want to show the world what You are like. Help us to get out of the way and let You live through us, with love and respect for others, even those we disagree with. In Jesus’ name, amen.