I learned many important things studying families. One of them is that meaningful, enduring, life-giving relationships take more positive interactions than negative ones. Many more. Though difficult to measure, some relationship researchers say there need to be at least 5 positive interactions for each negative interaction. Others say 9 positive-to-1 negative ratio is an even better goal for maintaining family relationships.
When stressed or facing uncertainty, though, the natural human reaction is to become defensive. For some people the “fight” instinct kicks in. For others, their “flight” instinct causes them to withdraw or even run away. Neither is helpful to a relationship in the long-run.
But there is one type of interaction that destroys families and important human relationships. It is contempt. What is contempt? Here are some definitions:
Treating a person as beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn; the act of despising; the general attitude toward a person or group that they don’t deserve respect; demeaning someone or treating them as being less valuable than oneself.
Dr. John Gottman, perhaps the leading researcher and respected authority on relationships, said that contempt is “corrosive” to any relationship. “It ought really to be outlawed.”
God is all about relationships. It is why He created us! But if anyone had a right to show contempt it was Jesus. He really could have called down His legion of angels to destroy those who mocked and killed Him. They didn’t deserve his respect. They didn’t deserve His patience and grace. The truth is we all have been a part of the crowd that has sinned against Jesus. Instead of treating us with contempt:
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:7-8 (NIV)
Why am I sharing this warning about the dangers of contempt? Because I am increasingly seeing contempt in the nation I love. I am not nearly as worried about the coronavirus as I am about the damage and divisiveness that results from contempt. The coronavirus can take the body, but contempt for others destroys souls. It destroys relationships. It puts our nation at risk more than any outside threat.
As disciples of Jesus, can I challenge us to treat others respectfully even if we disagree with them? Can we see them as someone God loves even when it is difficult for us to love them? Can we see that Jesus loved us even when we didn’t deserve it? I fully believe with God’s help the Church of Jesus Christ will emerge stronger as an influence for God’s Kingdom. But not if we let contempt infect us too.