Thinking Out Loud

December 28, 2011

How to Show Respect

Filed under: character — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:58 am

Japanese Etiquitte involves different levels of bowing reflecting degrees of respect

In traditional Japanese society it is customary to bow.  While a bow can indicate remorse, it usually indicates humility or even deference to the other person.

In traditional Chinese culture, in addition to bowing, there is a language nuance that has no equivalent in Western society, wherein the first person will speak in humble, even (what we would call) self-deprecating language and then say something that shows esteem for the other person.  The closest we get in English is the phrase, “Welcome to my humble abode,” which, if used when you live in a twenty-room mansion, emphasizes that you feel honored (perhaps even unworthy) to have said guest in your home.  In Chinese society, the remark would then be reciprocated, not unlike the situation where two people defer to each other in trying to go through a narrow door:  “You go first.” “No, you go first.” “Please, I insist, you go first.”   Etcetera.

So what is the correct thing to do in social situations that we in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe find ourselves?  That’s easy, showing respect today involves turning off your cell (mobile) phones and other similar devices.  Let me ask you this:  How many of you had to sit through a Christmas family gathering where people were texting, updating status, checking messages and responding to emails?  All day long?  In the middle of dinner?

Or better yet, how many of you were guilty of said social faux pas?  Nothing says, ‘You’re not important and the thing you’re doing or speaking about is not important,’ like ignoring the present reality in which you find yourself and instead wanting to connect with the outside world.  The people who aren’t there.  The part of your world which you find more interesting than the present company.

Instead we should bow.  And as we bow, we should reach into the pocket of the other person and switch their devices off.  While they do the same to us.

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November 27, 2010

Self Editing: Careful Monitoring of What You Say

My oldest son made an interesting comment about a speaker we heard recently:  “I appreciated what she had to say, but she doesn’t self-edit.”   Self-editing involves that little 2.3 milliseconds between what your brain is thinking, and the actual movement of your lips.   It’s a brief allowance in time for you to decide what you’re about to say is not really in your best interests.   The wisdom to make this decision might arise from maybe reading a little book called Proverbs.

It happens all the time…

  • the husband who knows how to answer when his wife asks, “Does this make me look fat?”
  • the car dealer who is careful not to let slip that the $11,000 used car only fetched its previous owner $2,000 as a trade-in
  • the gift recipient who doesn’t want to admit that she already has two George Foreman grills; neither one out of the box
  • the student who doesn’t want to tell her math teacher that he has bits of his lunch on his sport jacket

…and other situations of that ilk.

What I’ve found is that sometimes we are more careful to avoid potentially awkward situations than we to avoid ones that are more blatantly hurtful.  In other words, we’re more likely to censor ourselves, or if you prefer the term, self-edit, for reasons other than those that would cause direct pain.

Maybe we think the amended adage “Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you” is true.   But neither it nor its original version comes close to the truth.   Names do hurt, and they cause damage that causes people to shut down socially, or even end up in counseling for years following the hurt.


I am always amazed that otherwise seemingly intelligent people are capable of self-editing in so many different business, educational and social situations, but lack the grace to stop their mouths in situations where they are clearly bringing hurt to someone else.

Why do they do this?

There are a number of reasons, but one of them might be that they believe that certain people are impervious to pain and injury.

And one of the groups they believe fit this category is pastors, clergy,  and people generally in ministry.   We believe they are tough enough to take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain, our words are like a cloud, bring a lot of rain.  (Wow! I should copyright that line.)   We believe that something in their seminary training gave them rhinoceros hides — skin so thick that nothing can injure them.   We believe that as God’s representatives on earth they will just smile and nod and continue to say, “God bless you.”

Well it ain’t so.

Pastors and ministry workers are people, too.   They have their own spiritual life which can be devastated by insensitive remarks.   They have their own spiritual formation happening.   If anything, their profession leaves them more vulnerable to hurt.

And they cry.

Ministry profile has its price; and some of that is increased sensitivity to careless remarks or outright criticism.   Some pastors would gladly shed the large round target that is apparently painted on all their vestments.

But for all of us, in every situation, and every type of interaction, it begins with a heightened self-editing mechanism that is set to monitor potential hurt.

Several months ago, someone in ministry I know was dealt an unexpected blow that was actually quite calculated on the part of the perpetrator, who was out to prove a point, and out to accomplish an objective, but never thought to monitor for potential long-term damage. In carrying out their crusade, the perpetrator had a billion times more than the normal 2.3 milliseconds, but never bothered to self-edit themselves.

The recipient of their words is still hurting.

Related post on this blog:  Words Matter.

Another related post: Easy To Be Hard.

March 22, 2010

Bullying: Echoes of a Past Life

It didn’t attract a lot of comments a year ago, but I felt it was one of the better things on this blog, and because I have new readers, I decided to repeat this item today…

no-bullying-circle

This story of an 18-year old in Cincinnati who hanged herself last July after constant taunts from both school friends and strangers had an eerie resemblance to several other stories that have crossed my path lately. We sometimes call it cyber-bullying, but it’s really just harassment, ramped up to the nth degree.

Suddenly, my mind flashed back to a scene in a different era several decades ago… A group of teenagers returning from a weekend at the beach. The cottage, situated on one of the Great Lakes, was owned by a good friend, and his dad was driving us home. He’d dropped people off one at a time and arranged it so at the end it was only my friend and I left in the car.

Then he let us have it. “The way you treated ***** was terrible;” he said. “Don’t you know the boy has feelings?” Actually, no. Mainly because ***** seemed content to laugh along with the rest of us, as we ridiculed his speech and mannerisms. And some of us — like me, for example — didn’t know back then how to let a joke die…

Dear RG

The chances of you reading this are one in a gazillion, but I need to know that it’s out there. Perhaps someone else will read this who isn’t you and doesn’t know me; but they’ll claim it as their own. Perhaps by some miracle you’ll see this and recognize my name and know it’s for you.

We like to think things were better back then. There was no e-mail, or texting, or instant messaging, or Twitter. No matter what people thought about you, you could go home and shut the door and be within the safety of your family. I don’t know if your family provided that kind of refuge for you, or if our remarks were so hurtful that you went home and cried.

We didn’t really mean to hurt you. We thought you were in on the gag. Looking back, you were probably just being brave, just being defensive.

Today, the kids have all this technology and we know that bullying doesn’t have to be physical, it doesn’t have to mean picking a fight. While we didn’t have the technology to invade the sanctity of peoples’ homes and continue the harassment; we should try to remember that we weren’t that innocent in those innocent times. People were mean and cruel and said things they shouldn’t have; and some of us didn’t know when to quit.

So, RG; I’m sorry. I hope you were able to triumph over our high school stupidity and that you’ve made a good life for yourself all these years later.

For what it’s worth, I went to church back then, but didn’t understand the dynamics of living as a Christ follower. I didn’t let my faith deeply impact my behavior. I didn’t know my life was supposed to reflect a difference; a distinctive; patterned after the One I had pledged myself to serve and obey.

Some of that came together during the very last weeks of high school; some I figured out in the second term of first year university; some came together when I was 21; some I learned when I got married and had kids of my own; some stuff I worked out last year and last month; and a lot of what it means to bear the name of Jesus Christ I truly have yet to learn.

Yesterday I read a story about a young girl in Cincinnati and how the taunts of her friends and acquaintances drover her to the lowest point. I read of the agony of her parents; the grief of losing their only child, and all the hopes and dreams and aspirations they had for her.

And suddenly I thought of you; I thought of us; I thought of that cottage weekend when I simply didn’t know when to shut up. I wish I could relive that weekend over again; and I wish I could have been a true friend, instead of using you as a prop for my personal love of attention.

It’s never too late to say you’re sorry. I’m sorry.

~Paul.

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While looking for a graphic for today’s post, I came across this, which also provides some food for thought.

cycle_of_bullying

November 13, 2009

College Roommate Advice Wanted

Okay, truth time.   I grew up in a major city and was a commuter student during all four years of university.   Only towards the end of my senior year did I realize what I was missing.   Too little, too late.

So I wanted my son to have the complete experience and a late aunt was kind enough to remember Kid One in her will, paving the way for at least a year of residence.

A pre-admittance survey asked for personality preferences, and Kid One mentioned that he is fairly quiet and likes to retire for bed somewhat early, especially by college standards.   The idea was he would be given a roommate with similar likes and dislikes.

He was.

Words like reticent and taciturn don’t begin to describe the situation.  But then, Kid One noticed the guy was making connections with other people, but only engaging in the most essential communication when in the dorm room with my son.    Like maybe less than 200 words so far this semester.

What’s with that?

REJECTIONWhat started out as a personality trait is now emerging as rejection.   And that’s not a nice thing to do to anybody.

So to those of you who have been in the situation:  How do you get a very withdrawn and possibly hostile roommate to open up?   How do you break the ice?   Is mid-November past the point of trying?

And of course the related question:  As parents, how do you go from being ‘copied in’ on everything at the elementary and high school level to being on the sidelines once your kid enters university or college?    My son’s a nice guy.   I just want to call up his roommate and tell him that.

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