“You just called me an idiot.”
With eyes so wide they almost popped out of their sockets, my adolescent daughter immediately responded as if horrified, “No I didn’t. I would never call you an idiot.”
But there was no mistaking that tone. It said “idiot” loud and clear.
You know the contemptuous tone, don’t you? You hear it spewed from everyone from political pundits to talk show hosts, sportscasters, social media junkies and even the people in your own home. Using insinuations, sarcasm, and blatant put downs, stand up comics and shock jocks make a living slinging it’s slime.
If we’re honest, you and I are guilty too. We use whatever tools are at our disposal—our words, tone, body language—to not just clearly communicate our disapproval of others, but to do so in ways that demean and defy even the most common courtesies.
When did it become okay to treat anyone who doesn’t agree with us like they’re an idiot?
Treating others who do not think/act/look/feel/vote like us as if they were void of common sense has not only become commonplace, it has become dangerous.
In an eerily fascinating NY Times article, Our Culture of Contempt, public policy scholar Arthur C. Brooks cites “a 2014 article in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on something called motive attribution asymmetry — the assumption that your ideology is based in love, while your opponent’s is based in hate.” Brooks explains “researchers found that the average Republican and the average Democrat today suffer from a level of motive attribution asymmetry that is comparable with that of Palestinians and Israelis. Each side thinks it is driven by benevolence, while the other is evil and motivated by hatred — and is therefore an enemy with whom one cannot negotiate or compromise.”
While this study focused on political affiliation, it’s easy to draw parallels between other views that polarize us. Brooks goes on to say that motive attribution asymmetry leads to something worse than incivility or intolerance, but to “contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust. And not just contempt for other people’s ideas, but also for other people.”
Maybe this is why it seems the world is so angry.
For all our obsession with Enneagrams and related personality and temperament testing, I fear this is what we’ve come to—contempt for other people. We are still far more fascinated with living our own truth and stating our own opinions, in whatever manner we please, than we are with doing so in a way that treats those differing from us with respect.
Unfortunately, as Brooks concludes, “Contempt makes political compromise and progress impossible. It also makes us unhappy as people.”
As Christ-followers, we are called to a higher behavior.
“Above all, live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. “ (Philippians 1:27a)
We are not to live like mere earthlings, engaging in one upmanship. We are to live like citizens of a far better place. We are to live “worthy of the Good News about Christ” — of the mercy and grace we’ve been so undeservedly given.
Disagreements are inevitable, but with God’s Word and Christ’s example as our guide, surely we can disagree better than we have done and are doing. Instead of immediately disregarding or speaking ill of those who disagree with us, let’s cease from planning our pithy rebuttals while they’re speaking and instead lean in and listen for understanding.
Even when we must agree to disagree, let’s do so respectfully. After all, doesn’t the God who handmade each of us deserve that respect?
Meet the Author!
Bible teacher, author, inspirational speaker and disciple-maker, Vickey Banks is passionate about helping women connect the dots between God’s Word and their everyday lives. She loves serving as Women’s Ministry Director at Council Road, celebrating her people, playing with her puppy and getting lost in a good story.