Get it? Recipro City = Reciprocity. Weak, I know, but it’s how I was thinking about it, and it’s true, I do live there. I wish I could say that I didn’t, and I try to improve, but for the moment, more often than not, I feel like I am quite firmly rooted in that settlement. This municipality is based on the economy of merit=favor. And the amount of merit necessary to gain favor is completely subjective and left up to me in my not-so-fair city. There is very little grace, and very high, though also very selective, measurements for the standard.
I realized how entrenched I was in this mindset a few weeks ago. I find that I am very derisive and patronizing to those whom I believe are not living up to the standards. The standards, again, that I have set for them…how hard they should work, how much time, effort and thought they should put into things, even the things they should say or not say. I find that the more someone does not meet my standards, the worse I treat them…the more condescending and unbearably arrogant I become. One of the ridiculous things about this is that I seem to be the standard. If someone is not working as hard as I (think I) am, or demonstrating as much common sense as I (think I) do, or putting as much effort into something as I deem necessary, they become the target of my merciless superiority. I seem to take it as my right to treat them in a manner openly derogatory and demeaning. I assume an attitude purposely (although not exactly consciously) designed to make them feel stupid. At least it wasn’t conscious until recently…I don’t think I knew I did this. I have several people in my life at this moment whom extract all of the feelings of disdain I am speaking of here. For months, I have been slowly more and more convicted about my behavior in response to my frustration with them. I seriously turn into a pompous you-know-what when dealing with what I have decided is unworthy behavior.
And the unworthy behaviors I have picked are not even particularly “evil,” they’re just annoying…things like carelessness and lack of forethought and disorganization. If I was going to get so miffed over any types of conduct, I would like to think it would be injustice or cruelty or something like that. But, no, it seems that I am just as society trained me up to be, egocentric to the point that my blood only seriously begins to boil at things that specifically inconvenience ME. I am rarely at the other end of serious injustice or cruelty, and so I can dislike those things from afar. But catch me after I’ve had to work harder to correct someone else’s mistakes or pick up someone else’s slack at work or answer someone’s stupid question, and you’ll get an earful.
So, not only am I the standard, but the standard is based on how helpful your existence is to me. The less helpful your existence, the less worthy of respectful behavior you are. I think this attitude is not only linked to human nature, but to the consumerism of our society. Not to blame society. I like to think I have “beat the system” as far as falling into societal traps, but clearly this is not completely true, and sometimes the societal traps I find so repulsive are just behaviors that cater to our human nature, so whether it’s society or not, it’s still me allowing my own selfishness dominion or some part of my life. And I mean to talk about consumerism, so here we go. Consumerism generally teaches us that we should more highly regard and respect those who have something more important to offer us. You go to the doctor and show him deference. You check out with the convenience store clerk and show him superiority. I do the same thing. I wish I could say I didn’t. After all, I have most often been in positions in which I was the one looked down on…waitressing, fast food (even the title of manager doesn’t get you much respect), catering server, nanny. These are jobs where the whole point of your being there is to “serve.” And that’s how people treat you. Like a servant. Mostly. I mean, obviously, there are exceptions. But, honestly, even the exceptions are often very patronizingly trying to make themselves feel better by being nice to “the help,” and it is very painfully obvious. My point is that you would think I would be above this kind of what-you-have-to-offer equals how-well-you’re-treated-by-me mentality. But I’m not. As soon as what I have to offer begins to exceed what I think you’re offering me, I begin to treat you in a degrading fashion.
I know it seems like I got off-point with that consumerism thing, but can you see how it’s connected? The point of this whole thing is that I am not valuing people. In my economy, people who do what I expect of them deserve my acceptance. I am valuing what they have to offer me instead of valuing them, seeing people as only a means to a good for myself. Even in the first instances I was discussing, because in those, it’s when I begin to believe that my employer is gaining more benefits from having me as an employee than I am gaining by being employed, when a friend is gaining more benefits from having me as a friend as I am gaining in return. When I start to think the balance is off in someone else’s favor in any relationship (by relationship I mean any interaction with people), I become dissatisfied, judgmental and, often, just plain mean. However, when I think the balance is off in my favor, I smugly embrace it as just repayment for all of those times it was NOT in my favor. Since, you know, I am wise enough to recognize all of these situations in their true light.
My economy is not the same as God’s economy. Thank God. Literally. If He rolled His eyes at me every time I did something He knew to be stupid, ignored me when I stopped being useful or thought me unworthy of consideration because I could not offer anything as important as what He could, I would be completely and totally in despair, because this is my inherent condition. God, through Jesus Christ, offered everything to people completely unable to repay Him, unable to deserve Him, unworthy to look at Him. And, yet, I choose to see myself as important enough to dismiss people right and left simply for annoying me. I have really been trying to control my condescending impulses and be nice even when I find people’s behavior to be incompetent. Controlling the outward impulses of open disdain is nothing, however, to controlling the attitude causing them. When I can look at a person and see value regardless of what they have to offer, it will be cured. There is a statement that I’m sure you’ve heard: “Use things; love people.” This is in contrast to the bulk of my existence, which tells me, “Love things; use people.” I consider myself to be fairly non-materialistic. I am coming to realize that I am just materialistic in a different way than materialistic is usually meant. It is not necessarily rampant in the area of wanting lots of things, but it is monstrous in the area of wanting everything I offer to be equaled in return. C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit….” If I could wake up every day and see this in people…in every person…their intrinsic worth and significance as a being loved and sought by the One True and Perfect God, how different would my responses be?
I would like the rule of my life not to be reciprocity, but grace, mercy, love, respect. I don’t want people to feel like they have to earn this from me, and constantly fear losing it, and, yet, there are people in my life whom I know do fear this. People I have made to feel ignorant and unworthy because their performance was not up to my standard. People who feel intimidated by my scathing condescension. I have seen it in their faces, heard it in their tentative replies, felt it in their attempts at reparation. I don’t want to be that person. I apologize for being that person. Whoever you are, I want to love you unreservedly and unconditionally. I have a ways to go, and I can only get there by allowing God to work in me, but acknowledgement is the first step, right? Everything is baby steps from here on out.