"‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.’"
My husband had surgery last week (everything went well and he is progressing in his recovery). When they took him back to the pre-op, I decided to go downstairs to the hospital cafeteria for some coffee. While I was standing in line I glanced at something that spoke volumes about the state of things lately. It was a pamphlet for nurses on how to defend against physical attacks by patients and their families. I looked around at all the nurses in their scrubs sitting at the tables eating their lunches and my heart sank. I have been around hospitals enough to know some of the stresses that nurses deal with in normal times. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to add the threat of violence to the mix.
Of course, it is not just nurses who are facing increased hostility from the general public. All public-facing employees are reporting bizarre reactions from customers that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. One example is the customer who exploded over cheese. The employee described it this way:
“Have you seen a man in his 60s have a full temper tantrum because we don’t have the expensive imported cheese he wants?”… You’re looking at someone and thinking, ‘I don’t think this is about the cheese.’”
It’s not about the cheese. Uncertainty brings fear. After living in fear for a long time some people will lose the ability to regulate their emotions and so they tend to explode. So how does one respond to unreasonable, hostile, or even threatening behavior? My first thought is that it is important to re-establish that adults should be expected to manage their emotions and not raise their voices, shake their fists, threaten people, or call names. Pretty simple.
But there is more to a Christian response than just setting boundaries. A Christian response is informed by love and forgiveness. Those people who are losing it in grocery stores, hospitals, or on airplanes are hurting, even as they seek to inflict pain on others. It is okay to express compassion alongside boundaries. Compassion in the face of hostility addresses the bad behavior but also looks past it to the pain. A compassionate heart sees that many people are broken after two years of isolation and the loss of a once familiar world.
And what about the service professionals left in the wake of all this emerging hostility? They need kindness too, lots of it! Smiles, compliments, lighthearted humor, and patience in the face of disappointment go a long way toward healing the world. We are learning how to reconnect after a long period of separation. Little gestures that say "I see you and I care" are needed more than ever.
One might wonder why we should have to extend compassion and forgiveness to those who behave so badly. Aren’t we entitled to some righteous anger or even retribution? Well, we may be, but if we do indulge in such a response we should know that we lay down the yoke of our faith when we do so. After all, we follow the one who said of the crowds shouting for his death "forgive them Father for they know not what they do." Is it possible then for us to say of those who seethe with anger that they too know not what they do?
Seeking Christs’ love,