The week before last the internet went down at my house. More frustrating than not being able to work (about 90% of my work is done remotely) was dealing with the "big box" internet provider. Every time I called I knew I was speaking to a remote call center and subject to a set script. After about the fifth or so technical agent that asked me if my router was plugged in, if I had turned the device off and on again, I lost it. I yelled and said, "just send me a technician."
My little kids (all under five) heard it. Not that they haven't heard me yell before (again, three kids, under five), but my berating a stranger caught them off guard. But I got what I wanted. My anger triggered a protocol in the script: get this man his help. Without getting angry I wouldn't get what I want.
I see this pattern repeat often in my life, seemingly necessary. People speed down the main road in the morning, preventing me from turning onto the street. I feel compelled to honk at them, and if they're looking, flip them the bird. Someone has to tell them or else they're going to keep doing what they do. Ditto the idiots that plow into the traffic circle.
Don't even get me started when someone is wrong on the internet. My rants to my wife or whomever is around can easily take over the kitchen conversation. Let's face it, with the number of opinions flying around about the Catholic Church, it's important to point out how many of these foolish views there are out there.
And yet in prayer I encounter, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
My kids' reaction tells me that something is very off with my behavior. I want to model to my children the behavior they should aspire to. In everything we do as parents, we soon realize that children are naturally inclined to watch us. They're learning how to interact with the world through us.
There's a reality that the world requires patience with wrongs, bearing them. It also requires realizing that other people's decisions are often not just incongruous with our wants, but they're also wrong and dangerous. Yet our reaction to these situations matters greatly. Especially as Christians, we who are trying to model Christ, we can't let others or our desire to control others, or even our knowing how to cleverly get our way, dictate who we are.
Modeling grace and courtesy in all situations for my children is a sine qua non of my responsibilities as a Christian parent. This is hardly an easy yardstick to measure myself by, but it is a necessary one. I have to humbly resign each day to ask myself whether I live up to it or not.
I could have been more patient with the Comcast agent. Yes, he is part of a large, impersonal organization that actually rewards angry behavior. But I still have to show more patience, more self-restraint, and for however humiliating it is to be patient with absurdity, a problem is never so big that it warrants overriding basic decency.
Likewise, I'm not a police officer. I do not enforce the rules of the road. Someone who is likely ignoring the speed limit or a yield simply isn't going to suddenly wake up because someone flips them the bird. The irony is that as soon as I turn my attention to them, I lose my own attention on my driving and what I am doing. You can't create a double-standard when trying to right a wrong.
And, of course, opinions on the internet will always be wrong. As the old saying goes, those who speak don't know and those who know don't speak. Lashing out at someone's outlandish position really does nothing to correct that person, or allow me to consider what I might not know and what I might be ignorant about. In this case silence would just be better.
I always know little eyes and ears are watching. That's important never to forget.
Mattias A. Caro is the Executive Editor of Ethika Politika.