A Civil Hug

by Richard Mouw

Richard Mouw

As a person who has written and spoken a lot about civility, I regularly face situations in which I know I have to put up or shut up on the subject. Two closely related encounters stand out for the lessons I learned.

The first happened when I drove into a mini-mall one day to pick up some groceries. It was a crowded parking lot, and when I spotted an open space I pulled right into it. Then I heard some angry horn-blowing from a car facing from the opposite direction. The driver had obviously been waiting for the spot, and I had simply pulled in without noticing. She kept at the honking for several seconds, then gave me the middle finger and searched for another spot.

I decided to go looking for her. When I walked up, she was just getting out of her car.

"I'm very sorry," I said, "That was very thoughtless of me. I should have been paying closer attention to other drivers."

She sobbed. "If you knew the kind of day I have had … But … Oh, never mind!" And she walked away. After many steps she turned around. There were tears in her eyes. "Thank you," she said softly, and then she walked away.

The second encounter occurred a few weeks later when, returning a rental car, I got into an argument with the attendant. He wanted to charge me an extra hour, and I was convinced he was misreading the contract. Our heated exchange was interrupted by a supervisor, a middle-aged African American woman. She asked what was wrong, and I explained the situation to her in irritated tones. She looked at the contract, and said to her associate, "He's right."

Then she turned to me, and said, "Honey, you need a hug!"

After a brief embrace, I said, "Thank you," in the soft tone that I remembered from the woman in the mini-mall lot. Then I quietly apologized to the attendant for the tone I had used with him.

That little encounter reminded me that civility takes work. It takes spiritual work. Sometimes the Lord makes that point for us by sending someone to give us a hug!

Taken from Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World by Richard J. Mouw.
Copyright(c) 2010 by Richard J. Mouw.

Used by permission of: InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515 www.ivpress.com

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is president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a professor of Christian Philosophy and Ethics. He is the author of Uncommon Decency.