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How many times have we wondered why somebody who professes to love us so much -a relative, our spouse, our child, a friend or a colleague- treats us in a way that shows deep disrespect, indifference and selfishness -be it with their gestures, words, or attitudes?
There is an expression which many of us are familiar with, not only because we have heard it many times in our lives, but because we have found ourselves saying it in the face of certain events: surprising events, at the very least; disappointing events, usually.
How many times have we wondered, in deep sadness, why somebody who professes to love us so much -a relative, our spouse, our child, a friend or a colleague- treats us in a way that shows deep disrespect, indifference and selfishness -be it with their gestures, words, or attitudes? How many times are we the ones causing these feelings in those who we treat in such ways, with those very attitudes that, far from leaving a mark of sincere affection, confirm that what comes out of our lips are, very often, empty words? How many times do we treat better those outside than those inside? The true thing is that, deep down, many times familiarity breeds contempt.
This tendency of ours to relax in close and known environments is great, except that many times we get confused and assume that manners, and even politeness, are not necessary anymore. Frequently this drives us towards behaviors which, far from ratifying our affections and making them more coherent, are to our chagrin –or they should be- because they reveal the most widespread of hypocrisies, the one we all are guilty of without exception: not treating others, and not loving others, like we treat and love ourselves.
We can easily understand that, indeed, it is not possible to behave towards everybody, under all circumstances, in the same way. But if we pretend this is possible towards outsiders, this pretense will become a mask by virtue of which all niceties will fall on that side of the line, but all rebuffs, dirty looks, impertinences, and in the worst cases, screaming, insults and beatings, will stay home. I can’t think of any words other than hypocrisy or duplicity to describe this.
Let’s not fool ourselves by thinking this only happens outside the Evangelical world. Far from it! It probably happens more often inside than outside, since we are especially worried about what outsiders see, about appearances. Non-believers couldn’t care less. This is the reason why, many times, Christians are the main and true obstacle to the extension of the Gospel. This is intrinsic to the spirit of legalism. Those who follow the law just for the sake of appearances can’t identify the problem and can’t recognize their own sin.
Our capacity for being incoherent is not very different from that of the Pharisees, the very ones who Jesus called whitewashed tombs. We, along with them, project what we want to be seen outwards, what we want to be recognized for. But the same thing remains inside: a double measuring rod, a double standard which follows the law of the funnel: the wide part is meant for me, the thin part for the rest.
They knew, as well as we do, what is good and wrong. We can tell the difference between politically correct and incorrect. Many times we are aware of our actions, attitudes and words, which don’t reflect what we profess to feel towards those getting hurt by us. However, as long as everything stays home, it looks like nothing is wrong. The important thing is that those inside don’t tell. They must keep playing their part, because love covers a multitude of sins.
Sometimes we can be that biblical…too bad we keep using the Word to say what it never intended to say, and our closest neighbor to cover our loose manners. The adrenaline rush of following our impulses; the conviction, based on who knows what in the light of a true understanding of who God is, that nobody can see us behind closed doors, and if somebody does, they will keep their mouth shut out of love for our witness; all these might seem invincible. Hence the current situation.
Those who could say more about our true spiritual life, about the nature of our manners, about our understanding of the Gospel and about how we care for others are, for the most part, those who live with us, those spending time with us and in front of whom, at times, we stop pretending. Nobody can live pretending 24/7, in spite of our tendency, to a higher or lesser degree, to put a mask on. There is no need for terrible blunders to identify ourselves with this thought and to examine ourselves in light of facts.
As C.S. Lewis tells us, talking about much simpler and everyday situations that we barely notice, affection at its best practices a courtesy which is incomparably more subtle, sensitive and deep than the public kind. The better the affection the more unerringly it knows the right tone and moment. This, in turn, compels us to examine our affections and to weigh their truthfulness and their deepness. Because when affection is real, it weighs more than oneself.
I like considering the following case study: let’s imagine somebody who wants to find the answer to the question ‘how are we, really’. Let’s imagine that this question has to be answered by those closer to us, those who see us in the morning and at night during the last moments of our day, in our times of relax, anger or unrest.
Now let’s imagine that the answer is given behind closed doors, on the understanding that nobody else will hear about it besides the person asking, and that it won’t carry any consequences, since we will never know what the person answering said…
If this makes us nervous at all, maybe it is time to examine our affections, to evaluate if it is not really ourselves who are at the top of our affections ranking…and to evaluate if the way we deal with others is a reflection of the love we feel towards them.