Perhaps it was the nasty tone of this year’s election, or perhaps people are just generally growing less tolerant, but it seems to me that lately people are becoming more and more irritable and prickly. In emails and voicemails people are curt and rude, and sometimes even openly hostile. And when you’re driving, people flash their lights, honk their horns, and more and more frequently use an obscene gesture to let you know they are not pleased with you.
While the above is bad, worse for me is the fact that I find myself responding in-kind when I think people are being nasty or ill-tempered. It amazes me how quickly I can “go negative” with someone in response to an email or a voicemail that is rude or snarky. I don’t think I am alone in this. In our world today, there seems to be a limited supply of tolerance and giving someone the benefit of the doubt.
An example of this for me was an email I received several months ago from someone I considered a friend. I felt personally attacked in the email and as a result, my response was less than pastoral. This started a series of back and forth emails, until it finally dawned on me that while I was inwardly (and outwardly) complaining about the tone and tenor of the emails I was being sent, my responses were no better. I realized that if this kept up there was no way the exchange would end well. Given this, I said that I thought it would be best if we would simply have to agree to disagree and that we should terminate the exchange. I then wished them well.
Not being very pleased with my behavior I talked to another priest about it. His response was two words: time and prayer. Specifically he suggested that I not respond immediately to emails, voicemails, people, or situations that I find irritating. Instead he suggested I take some time to reflect on why I was feeling irritated or under attack. After I had taken some time to reflect on the situation, he then proposed that I bring it to prayer. He suggested that time and prayer were the ingredients to a healthier perspective.
I have been trying to follow this priest’s advice for the past several weeks. And while I’d like to report that I have been one hundred percent successful, if the truth be told, I still continue to fall into the trap of responding in-kind to words and behaviors I perceive to be rude or snarky. On the plus side, however, there have been more than a few occasions, when by taking the time to reflect and pray, I have toned down my response and/or given the other person the benefit of the doubt regarding their words and intentions.
While it shouldn’t be that hard to take the time to reflect and pray before we respond to situations and people that irritate or upset us, I think this is something we all too often fail to do. It is something I am trying to put into practice, though. And while they say that “practice makes perfect,” I suspect that it will take a lot more time and prayer before perfection is even a remote possibility.