Can Bad Manners Ruin Christian Community?


True confessions time here. Like lots of people who have spent much of their lives doing things very well, I don’t always relate to people as well as I’d like.

Some kinds of relationships I have always handled with excellence. I’m known for listening well; for keeping deep confidences; for being able to hear the most mind-boggling horrors without being flummoxed. I can talk with the daughter of a prostitute or the owner of a corporation.

But a year ago, if you’d dropped me into a Chamber of Commerce networking session with 80 or 100 of my professional peers, I really wouldn’t know what to do with myself.

The Toes Tell It

A colleague, Brent Ward, made a presentation at the Durham Chamber on networking that set me on the right path. For me, the takeaway was that at a large gathering, you can tell which groups are open to being joined by noting the position of their feet. If any feet are pointed outward, the group is open. If all feet are pointed inward toward group members, the group is absorbed in its conversation and you should not attempt to break in.

Simple, isn’t it? You already knew it instinctively, I’m sure: you just hadn’t articulated it as Brent did.

From then on, I could go to large events and neither feel limited to approaching isolated individuals nor feel at risk of rejection when approaching groups. I knew the rules.

“Look Me in the Eye, Buster!”

A great many young adults seem unable to make eye contact during conversation and I’ve started to wonder if it has to do with the pace of contemporary childhood. When the dinner table is replaced by the drive-through, children learn to converse side-by-side. Worse, their primary face-to-face encounters with parents may occur when they’re being disciplined. Eye contact becomes a frightening experience that only happens when they’ve “been bad.”

Knowing the rules of social interaction is basic to social success. At some level, they’re basic to the success of community formation and maintenance. But the rules you need to know are far more basic than “Miss Manners’ Excruciatingly Correct Guide to Etiquette.”

The rules that help hold a community together are the kind of rules that stop people from breaking relationship. I would imagine the basic rules would be designed to prevent things like:

  • Rudeness
  • Patronizing
  • Unkindness
  • Manipulation for personal gain
  • Undermining others
  • Excluding others
  • Failing to follow through
  • Irritability

On the more positive side, they might include something like the Rotary Club Four-Way Test for checking one’s comments and behavior:

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

And if we took a few minutes, which we will at a later date, we could find Scripture that addresses these and many others. Basically, God commands good manners so the Body will function as it should.

What kinds of behavior do you think ruins Christian community? What builds it up?

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About Carlene Hill Byron

The former editor of New England Church Life and The New England Christian, Carlene Hill Byron is enjoying being home in Maine after 20 years in North Carolina. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Find her at christianpurposeblog.wordpress.com, churchandmentalillness.wordpress.com and on Facebook at MyHouseHasHistory.
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