My thoughts have been circling around the subject of contempt for about a week. What does it mean?
Contempt is a feeling that someone or something is not worthy of any respect or approval. Contempt that I’ve seen rises up when I feel like someone is not doing their best, especially on purpose. I have a high value for passion and intention, and when those things aren’t present in a lifestyle, I have to fight to respect that person. I struggle to respect people who avoid their problems or cover them. I’ve also felt contempt when I saw dishonesty, denial, and self-destructive patterns. It’s almost natural for people to feel contempt for others who repeatedly make choices we don’t know how to respect and wouldn’t make for ourselves. How can we approve of them when they make terrible choices? I think Contempt is best buddies with Arrogance, too. They hang out on Saturdays. Contempt says “ew” and Arrogance says “you’re better than that” and together they laugh and laugh. You don’t want to hang out with these two, because they’re super obnoxious. Also, they’ll ruin you.
I think Contempt and Grace have one thing in common: they assume, which means to think that something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true. Contempt assumes the worst of people, and assumes that they’re guilty. Grace assumes the best of people, and assumes that they’re innocent.
This is the classic case of the half-filled cup, whether it is half-full or half-empty. Truth is that we do not know the matters of the heart, only God does. We don’t know if someone is bent for evil or if they’re actually a great person in there, banging on the walls, trying to get out of their mistakes prison.
Contempt is quick to put people on a scale, like Willy Wonka, and call them bad eggs. Contempt wants you to make a judgment, which is really, really, really not our job. We are poorly equipped to make a judgment. We have been judged inadequate to judge, but we have been encouraged to assume the best.
I started a new job in the last 3 months, and let me tell you that there is a certain coworker for whom I was beginning to feel contempt. This person didn’t work very hard and left me hanging. I’d point out an issue and this person would laugh and express how much they did not care. “OH NO YOU DID NOT” I would scream from the inside. Apathy, if you can’t already tell, is my sweet trigger of contempt.
Then I realized that I only care because I have been given the tools and the flame to care. This person did not have the equipment to care. They were trying to hike my rainy mountain of I CARE while barefoot and naked. They didn’t have it, and it was unfair for me to assume the worst of them when they were not equipped.
I felt relief wash over me when I changed my perspective. I began to assume the best for this person. I assumed that they were manifesting on the outside what was going on inside, and it activated me to pray. I assumed that this person was so tired, that they’d cared for so long and began to burn out. I assumed that they built walls of apathy so that they could keep disappointment out, and how that had failed. I started to pray for their walls of apathy to come down, and for bravery to rise up to forgive whoever disappointed them. I told myself that this person was working as hard as they could, and so that I needed to pray for strength, so that I could keep up. Funny thing that happened was that strength elevated in me and I no longer felt overwhelmed, but worked diligently, quickly, and with more joy than before. I realized that I needed to encourage this person, and to tell them the things they are doing well. I began to do that and saw a change. The next time I worked with that person, they worked much harder.
Had I given up, snitched to the boss, and lost my patience, I would have gotten this person in trouble. I would have been like anybody else. I would have left work feeling like I had done the right thing, but also feeling like a giant jerk. Instead, I chose to assume with grace that this person was doing their very best, and sure, it wasn’t much, but it was all they could do. I honored that. I prayed. I spoke into it.
I became content with someone’s decision that I would have never made. Take that one in. I’m gonna write it one more time: I became content with someone’s decision that I would have never made.
I said to myself “that’s the best they’ve got right now” and I approved, and I moved on with ALL my peace, and I adjusted my circumstances to pray and overcome the hurdle before us. God is and will always be faithful. If we dare to assume the best of people, over and over, and affirm them for what they do well, to appreciate them for even the tiniest of sliver of good they can bring to the table, guess who benefits the most? We do. We become more loving, more pleasant. That helps.
I sigh less. I roll my eyes less. I feel the need to complain less. I feel contempt less. I feel arrogant less. Instead I feel more compassion. More grace. I think you can bring this into your difficult relationships, and into every kind of exchange you have to make with people who you struggle to respect. We put our toy gavels down, and grab hold of Contentment. Peace comes along. Grace shows up and makes it a party. It’s more fun to hang out with those three, any day of the week. They prosper you.