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By David Hegg

How’s this for a bold opening: Life usually comes down to response. Most of life flows out of how you respond to circumstances, opportunities, situations, people, problems, challenges …you name it. While there are things in this world that we can control, the most important one is how we respond to the people and things that invade our lives every day. I’ll even go so far as to say there are times when your response to something is much more important than the something.  

Think about it. On the athletic field, rarely does the guy who pushes first get caught, but almost always the guy who pushes back gets flagged. So it is with life. You can’t control what happens to you but you can control the way you respond. And, if we’re ever going to be a mature, civilized, neighborly, useful and successful people, we’ve simply got to learn how to respond wisely, appropriately and in a way that creates harmony rather than enmity. 

Several of my friends and family members are “first responders.” We’ve all heard that term but what I want you to think about right now is how important it is that these “responders” carry out their response to adverse situations properly. For example, when called to a structure fire, those in the fire service don’t start tossing Molotov cocktails into the surrounding structures. And when called to an “active shooter” situation, our law enforcement officers don’t start shooting everyone they see.  

OK, so maybe my examples are a little over the top, but I just wanted to shock the eyes of your thinking center and get them good and open.  

Here’s the deal. Maybe it’s that our personal energy tanks are getting filled up with COVID-19 frustration fuel, or maybe the erosion we see in our society is more real than we think. But, in any event, we’ve become a society that seems unable to respond maturely, reasonably and honorably to the wrongs we witness and the hurts we feel.  

When did it become proper to demean the opposition with childish name calling? When did it become acceptable to publicly declare that someone with different ideas deserves to be harassed, and even die a horrible death? When did it become honorable to suggest that persons of a particular ethnicity should be hunted down and terminated? When did it become “a best practice” for those who hold positions in the media to denigrate their competitors, edit the news according to their own biases, and suggest that the nation’s woes can all be attributed to a particular broadcast philosophy?  

And when did it become OK to slap teachers, punch another team’s fan, and call parents “domestic terrorists” for desiring a say in what their kids are being taught? 

What’s going on? I’ll tell you. We are watching a nation lose its ability to respond with self-control, dignity and rational thought. We have front-row seats on the triumph of absurdity on the one hand, and the death of civility on the other. As a society we should be embarrassed to watch our leaders act like spoiled children. In many cases they need to be turned out, not just a time out.  

The bottom line is that achievement has become more important than honor, power more desired than integrity, and certainly half-truths and untruths more useful than veracity and accuracy.  

As kids we all tried to minimize our poor responses by shouting, “but they started it.” And more than likely our parents said, “but you finished it in the wrong way!” I guess they were just trying to teach us that the way we respond says everything about who we really are, and how much we want to build up rather than tear down those around us.  

So, can we please stop throwing verbal petroleum on the fiery circumstances we encounter? We’re all aware that the price of gasoline continues to put a crimp on our wallets. But I sure hope we also see the monumental price we’re paying as a society for the verbal and relational gasoline we continue to spew.  

If we’re ever to solve the huge challenges we face in today’s world we must learn how to speak honorably, listen attentively and control the ways we respond to those around us. 

After all, if most of life is about response, we’re in danger of responding ourselves down to a pile of ashes. We’re better than that, and it’s time to prove it.  

Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.