The ABC’s of Wisdom: Building Character with Solomon - Courtesy
The Milk of Human Kindness
If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.
There is a bit of mystery surrounding this particular proverb. Is the man in view simply a gregarious friend who is just a little too happy early in the morning? Or is there a sinister implication here, that this man is being falsely friendly in order to gain a personal advantage? Is he too friendly too early because he wants to take you off guard while you are still waking up? The New Living Translation evidently inclines to the first view, translating the verse this way: “If you shout a pleasant greeting to your neighbor too early in the morning, it will be counted as a curse!”
So what’s the problem? At the very least, your gregarious neighbor is showing a deplorable lack of common courtesy. Even if he means well, his timing is off by about two hours. Harry Ironside calls this behavior “utterly obnoxious.” Such a person is tone-deaf to the delicate sensitivities of friendship. There is a proper time for everything-including hearty greetings-but this man evidently doesn’t know or doesn’t care.
Proverbs contains several other examples of this boorish behavior. Overfamiliarity can be a problem (25:17), as can an overused sense of humor (26:18-19). Sometimes the problem is simply making inappropriate comments (25:20). All of us may be guilty of such things occasionally. Wisdom senses the problems before they arise and finds a graceful alternative.
John Henry Newman commented that “it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.” Because he possesses a keen understanding of human nature, he knows when to speak, when to be silent, when to drop in for a visit, and when to go home. He doesn’t wear out his welcome, and he doesn’t use humor as a tool to hurt others. To use an old expression, he “wears well.”
First Corinthians 13:4-5 tells us that “love is kind” and “is not rude.” Courtesy is nothing more than the practical application of Christian love to the ordinary affairs of life. The dictionary calls courtesy “excellence of manners” and “polite behavior.” It is a combination of tact, timing, sensitivity, and kindness. Courteous people are known not only by what they do and say, but also by what they don’t do and don’t say.
Admittedly, this virtue may not seem as noble as courage or as important as integrity. But when analyzed, courtesy is impossible without a whole host of other virtues, including patience, forgiveness, self-control, and humility. When someone spreads rumors about you, are you strong enough not to retaliate in anger? If a gregarious neighbor knocks at your door at 6:15 A.M., will you be gracious enough not to pour hot coffee down his pants?
In a very real sense, the test of courtesy is the bad manners of others. Anyone can be courteous to nice people. It’s how you respond to the cads and louts of the world that makes all the difference.
“Life is short,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, “but there is always time for courtesy.” That’s a good thing to remember the next time your neighbor knocks at your door.
Lord Jesus, You were the epitome of courtesy toward friend and foe alike. Give me the grace to treat others as You would. Amen.
List four or five examples of common courtesy and rate yourself in each area.
How do you normally respond to discourteous treatment by others?
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