This morning I stood in line behind a guy in a coffee shop who was super rude to a barista. This is NOT how I wanted to start my day off. He was insufferable. Maybe it was because it was early and I hadn’t actually experienced my day off; maybe it was the cowering look and flushed cheeks of the sweet clerk on the receiving end of his abuse; maybe I was just in a feisty mood - I don’t know. But I could NOT stop myself.
“Sir, I gotta tell you, if I were being talked to like that, it would really be upsetting. This woman is trying to do her job. It seems like you are causing her distress. With all due respect, please stop raising your voice at her.”
“Well, lady, we live in a contemptuous world. Get used to it.” Interesting. I didn’t suggest that he was being contemptuous - though I think he was - he came up with that on his own. He handed over his five bucks for his specialty coffee drink that I thought only teenage girls ordered and stomped off to wait for it to be prepared. (I am being catty. Contemptuous even.)
My computer dictionary says this about contempt:
the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.
disregard for something that should be taken into account.
According to this guy, this is the world we live in. It is a world where we can act on a feeling that springs up in our teeny tiny hard hearts that convinces us that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. It is that capacity to disregard another - and even the dictionary agrees that “something that should be taken into account” should not be held in contempt.
The guy never said another word as he grabbed his girly drink (oops there I go again) and slammed his way out the door. My Lord, I prayed, if this is the world we live in - we are in big trouble. I paid it backward and gave that teary eyed teen a 100% tip and knew that I could have given her a puppy and it would have done little to ease the pain associated with being treated with contempt. As if she were beneath consideration. Worthless. Deserving scorn. Disregarded even though she was created to be taken into account.
The guy is right. We do live in a world where contempt is normative. But does that mean we have to buy into it as a lifestyle? I, who have spent a good bit of time writing about the concept at various points in my life, find myself holding the guy in this story...in contempt. How in the world are we going to change this contemptuous dynamic - a dynamic I hate AND practice?