Posted by: Mike Willoughby | January 4, 2010

Uncommon Courtesy

One day during the week before Christmas, I was standing in a check-out line at a big box retail store and I overheard an exchange between two ladies in the next line.  Although we were separated by a tall end cap display and I couldn’t see either of them, I could clearly hear their conversation.  Perhaps fueled by holiday stress, they were arguing about their schedule for the day, where they should go next and who was responsible for the fact their day was already hopelessly messed up before noon.  In the course of their argument, they were treating one another with clear disrespect and each was saying things that I hope they would later regret saying.  It probably won’t surprise you to know that these two ladies were a mother and her teenage daughter.  I found myself embarrassed for both of them and I caught myself judging them for having this conversation in my check-out line.  Here is what I caught myself thinking:  “This is not a conversation they should be having in public.  They should save this for the car or for their home.”

Shame on me for thinking there is a proper place for having such a conversation at all!  It got me thinking about my own behavior and forced me to think about some of my own experiences with my own family.  I have to admit that I have had such exchanges with my kids where I’ve said things that I would never say to them in public and they have said things to me they would only say in private.  Perhaps we have a behavior filter that this mother and her daughter didn’t have that allowed them to conduct this argument in public, but am I really any better than the two of them?  The obvious answer is, “No.” 

I also don’t think my family or this mother and daughter are at all unique.  I’ve witnessed similar behavior from many other families in different situations.  It makes me ask the question, “Why do we sometimes say things to our loved ones we would never dream of saying to total strangers?  Why do we tend to treat the ones we love the most with the most contempt?”  There is an old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt” which may be true for human behavior, but is this the way it should be for Christians?  Shouldn’t familiarity breed deeper love and extended grace?

The best scripture reference I could come up with for this article is Galatians 6:7-10.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

I initially thought of this scripture for verse 10 which encourages us to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Although Paul writes these instructions to the church in Galatia, his use of the word “household” shows he thinks of them as a church family and not just some loosely organized group of people.  If we are to do good things for those in our church family, how much more should we seek to do good things for our physical family?  However, I was also intrigued by the cause and effect language of the larger context where Paul talks about reaping what we sow.  So here is the big lesson I take away from this experience and this scripture.

There are repercussions from the way we treat each other.  Although we may think that our family love for each other will somehow erase the pain caused by our thoughtless comments, the reality is that damage is done when we treat each other with disrespect.  In fact, the damage is likely even greater when I treat a family member poorly since they value my opinion of them much more highly than they value the opinion of a friend or a stranger.  How can I expect to treat my family members with verbal disrespect and not suffer any long-term consequences in our relationship?  This type of negative attitude comes from our worldly selves and causes destruction.  As damaging as the negative behavior can be, I think positive behavior can have a corresponding opposite benefit.  If we sow seeds of positive treatment and encouraging comments within our family interactions, will we not reap the rewards of richer relationships and sweet harmony in our households?  This loving positive attitude comes from the Spirit working through us and provides eternal benefits.  We used to talk about Common Courtesy as a standard for behavior.  Perhaps Common Courtesy has become all too uncommon today, especially within our families.  Maybe it’s time for a little Uncommon Courtesy in 2010!  I think it is worth a try, and so in 2010 I resolve to try to be nicer to my family than I am to friends and strangers.

I am intrigued to know if any of you have similar experiences within your families or observations of other families.  I am also interested in what tips and techniques you may use within your families to combat the “familiarity breeds contempt” tendency that seems to lead to saying and doing things we should not say or do.  Perhaps we can help each other with our mutual experiences.  If you experience this same problem, you may want to make a similar resolution and bless your family in 2010.  In any event, thank you for your readership and your fellowship and please remember to let me know if there is anything I can be praying for you.  Instructions for sending me a prayer request are on my Tips from Mike page.

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!


  1. Mike, Thank you for your insight and your willingness to share your life with me. Brother I am struggling with the same problem. I will pray that both of us will have more courtesy for our families.

  2. Thanks, brother. What an excellent reminder as we start another new year. Early in our marriage I received some of the best advice I ever got. I don’t even remember who it came from but he encouraged me to never speak ill of my wife in casual conversation. He also said not to use words like “my old lady” or “ball and chain”. He said that my aquaintances would benefit greatly from the nice things I said about my wife. In a similar way, one of Alyson’s Chik-Fil-A bosses once told her that she appreciated that “her name was safe in Alyson’s mouth while that was not the case with many of her co-workers”. I have tried to pass on these little words of advice whenever I can, especially to newlywed guys that I know. I’d love to tell you that I’ve followed both of these all the time but that would not be true. However, when I violate them, the Lord brings to my mind that I committed to be better than that! May we all be reminded to be better in 2010.
    Love you brother,

  3. I can`t imagine someone who is sweeter or more in touch with family concerns than you, but it is a fact that there is always room for growth in all of us and I thank you for that reminder. I love you, but that is easy!!

  4. Thanks for the great reminder and for the call for Uncommon Courtesy in 2010!

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