One of the more lighthearted among Jim Croce’s rather melancholy singer-songwriter career, shortened by an untimely and premature death in one of Rock & Roll’s many plane crashes, was a song called “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” There are many things that you do not want to do in life, situations you do not want to get in, people you simply just do not want to tangle with if you value your well-being. This sort of harm need not be physical, as there are many ways that our life can be harmed, whether it is from the drama we invite into our lives, from the annoyance and frustration that results from persistent misinterpretations and misunderstandings that would be easily resolved with open communication, to people who enjoy a good (or bad) argument.
I have been told, numerous times, that I am not the sort of person one wants to get on the wrong side of an argument with. This is rather sound advice for anyone, given that I am a fairly tenacious person when it comes to arguments and debates. I dislike arguments as I find them stressful and generally unpleasant, but if I feel attacked or feel that someone is getting unfairly attacked, I’m generally inclined to step in and support others, and I have a fairly high tolerance as far as continuing an argument as long as someone is insistent on attacking me. At various times in my life, this has proven to be deeply wearisome fo me personally, but at other times it has provided a useful (and occasionally necessary) reminder to others that I’m not someone one wants to mess with, even if not all discussions with me, or even most, are anything less than pleasant.
In dealing with people in general, we ought to have a high base of respect for people based on the fact that they are created in the image and likeness of God. If we are physical or spiritual family members, we ought to consider there being a higher level of respect and honor and consideration that is due for such people. Unfortunately, different people define respect very differently. In many cases, it is our definition of respect, when that definition is not communicated openly and clearly, that causes a great deal of unnecessary difficulty with others. I happen to be someone who considers honest and godly rebuke to be a form of respect (as someone has to be a really brave person to attempt to rebuke me, it must be confessed, among other reasons), but that is a respect I give just as easily as I get. Of course, everyone prefers forms of respect that are gracious and kind, although those often seem in short supply.
It is especially ironic that many of those people who claim to find rebuke intense disrespectful are often quick to rebuke others, whether justly or unjustly. To be fair, many of us greatly overestimate our abilities at reading the hearts, motives, intentions, and even behavior of other people. That which we think to be entirely factual and justified often turns out, in an honest reflection, to be a shade too harsh. As someone who tends to defend myself rather fiercely, and to justify that tendency to myself without any great difficulty. That said, I lament that it has often been necessary for me to defend myself fiercely. Why is it not common for others to recognize when they have crossed the line and make an apology–I am not so harsh or unfeeling as to reject the kind overtures of those who have wronged me, as I greatly prefer mercy to judgment, like most people I would hope.
It is greatly lamented that there is not more kindness in this world, but if we look at ourselves, we will often find that a main reason that there is so little kindness in the world is that we view kindness as a scarce commodity to be horded and only given out to those few whom we consider worthy rather than a gift that multiplies in the giving, like loaves and fishes. We have to recognize that what we may see as kindness other people may not agree, or what we may give with the thought that it is kind (if cruel to be kind, in the right fashion) may not always feel kind when returned to us. In the end, if we are to treat others decently and with respect, we must do so because we are kind and respectful and not because others have deserved our respect. For if we wait for others to deserve our respect and kindness, we will be waiting a long time, perhaps forever. However, neither do we deserve the kindness and grace that we receive either, so as we have freely received, so ought we to freely give.