Honoring Dishonorable People

Kachemak BayOne of the most difficult principle for me to learn over the years has revolved around how to respect and honor people who have lost my respect or behave in a way that is offensive to me.  Harder still are those who have offended me on purpose and continue the behavior that puts me on the defensive.  I am so tempted to control the situation when I am offended, that I use many dishonorable tactics. Some times I have pitted my wit against the wit of the offender–emphasizing the gulf of knowledge between us, with my knowledge being superior, and theirs being absent.  (Usually this is accomplished with heavy doses of sarcasm.) It becomes a  vicious cycle that causes both the offender and the offended to act in a dishonoring way, and washing us both away in a sea of bad behavior. So here are a couple of principles I have learned that I attempt to put into practice.

If you have ever felt the need to “think” for another adult, because you do not trust them to think on their own, you will likely relate to this post.  Children of alcoholic, abusive or drug abusing parents often find themselves in this role from a very young age.  The adult in your life who was supposed to be responsible, and respectable, proves instead to be childish, and exude behavior that is senseless, and often dangerous.  As a child caught in this family, your choices are limited.  If you want to survive, you take on the role of the responsible person in the house.  You cover for the choices of the offending adult.  You talk them down from their ledges, try to coerce their car keys away, and even tuck them in their beds even when it is the middle of the day.  You find that your voice sounds very parental even if you yourself have not yet reached puberty. Carry this behavior into your adulthood and you will find that you resent it.  If the truth could be known, you want adults to act like adults.  You don’t like picking up after people.  You don’t like being their “mom” or “dad”.

As an adult, when you treat another adult as a child by thinking for them, or choosing for them, you dishonor them. Of course, I am not referring to aging parents who have dementia, or Alzheimer’s  I am referring to adults who insist on behaving like children, by shifting all of their personal responsibilities onto others.  If you do not change your role in the relationship, you will be caught in a vicious cycle that will likely leave you with bitterness.  As adults, we are each responsible for our actions, and if you have been absorbing the consequences of another adult’s behavior, or manipulating and controlling the actions of another adult, you are not doing them or yourself any favors (though at the time, you might feel like a superhero).

One way honor a dishonorable person is to let them make their own decisions and then live with the consequences of that decision.  If their decisions are childish and display bad behavior, they need to be able act like children, and you need to be able to back away.  You can say, “If you want to throw a tantrum, you can.  I however, will not stay to watch it.”  You get to stay and adult, and they get some adult choices and consequences.  “We want to have you over for dinner, but if you continue you to criticize and belittle the host, you will no longer be invited.”  Now they have choices, and you have boundaries**.  Consequences need to find their way to that adult instead of landing on you.  In severe cases where there their life or the life of another is in danger due to their actions, you will need to confront them, but I would suggest bringing in a third party into the situation such as the police, a counselor, or another professional that has the resources to help.

Sometimes adults act childish, and sometimes we treat them that way.  To make other adults feel like children by scolding, talking down to them, or heaping guilt on them is dishonorable.  When parents do it to adult children it is out of line, and when adult children do it to parents it is no different. This applies to bosses, exes, politicians, and adult relationships in general. We should not try to control another human being by shaming, guilting, belittling, or abusing.  Sometimes our words can be just as painful as our actions.  If you find that you have to guilt someone, cut them with sarcasm or critical words, or shame them to get what you want from the relationship, you are acting in a dishonorable way.

To disagree with someone is not dishonor, the dishonor happens when we mis-treat the person with whom we disagree.

In learning how to honor dishonorable people, God has dealt with my bitter sarcasm, my low evaluations of people, and my need for defenses.  He has asked me to change my perspectives as well as my actions.  Often it means I bite my tongue and trust that God will defend me.  Sometimes it means I apologize to the offender for the way I reacted to the offense. Other times, I have found that I have to disconnect the relationships with some who continue to behave dishonorably to me.  These people I choose to honor instead, by walking through forgiveness.  I cancel the “debt” of the offender, and try to move on.  I pray for them.  I choose to remember the best from them.  I grieve the loss.  Honor  is a process I began over 20 years ago, and will continue to implement for the rest of my life.

The bottom line is that God has placed a very high value on people.  So much so that He gave His Son to die for them.  That kind of evaluation shows me that I have some improvements to make in the way I treat people, and some ground to gain in the way I allow others to treat me.  I am in a life-long school, and will always be a student, but regaining respect while bestowing dignity and honor on others is what God has asked me to do.

**There are multiple books written on this subject.  One of my favorites is Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  This book outlines the the basic responsibilities of adults and children and helps you place boundaries in your life that you may have never had, or known you needed.  If you have never known where “you” end and another person begins, I highly recommend this book.