A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. [Proverbs 15:1 (NLT)]
A man down the street has surrounded his home with security cameras pointed in every direction. I’m told that he’s an unpleasant old coot but I wouldn’t know; in all the years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen him. He has, however, managed to irk one neighbor enough that she salutes his cameras with her middle finger every time she passes by his house.
Anthropologist Desmond Morris claims the middle finger sign of rudeness is one of the oldest known insult gestures. Aristophanes wrote of the gesture in his play Clouds and the Romans called the middle finger the digitus impudicus or indecent finger. Sadly, in this day and age of rudeness, road rage, and irate neighbors, we frequently see it.
Several years ago, one of our pastors suggested that we give the “thumb’s up” gesture rather than the middle finger salute. He frequently repeated that thought until one day he misspoke and suggested the finger rather than the thumb! Popularized during World War II when pilots used it to signal ground crews their readiness for take-off, the “thumb’s up” gesture generally has a good connotation in English speaking countries. Unfortunately, it has a negative meaning in Greece, Russia, Sardinia, parts of West Africa and much of the Middle East. A full-fingered wave probably is a safer suggestion than thumb, especially when accompanied by a smile!
We all have moments when we’re angered or upset but, hopefully, we’re mature enough to refrain from giving that middle finger or yelling nasty words and escalating the situation. Nevertheless, it’s easy to mutter bad words to oneself, have hostile thoughts, and mentally give that rude gesture. After a reckless driver cut us off and nearly caused an accident, my husband growled angrily, “Here’s the thumb for you!” Although he refrained from a rude gesture, I gently reminded him that we’re not supposed to be thinking the finger when giving someone the thumb! Not doing the wrong thing is only half right; we also need to think and do the right one.
While Scripture never specifically refers to vulgar gestures, it does say a great deal about how we are to treat our neighbor and everyone is our neighbor—including the driver who cuts us off, the man who doesn’t clean up after his dog, the woman who pushes ahead of us in line, and the recluse down the street with his dozens of security cameras.
Not everyone who crosses our path is going to cross it nicely; nevertheless, there is no excuse for returning incivility with more of the same. Let us respond with grace and humility. Since we’re told to pray for our enemies, instead of merely refraining from nasty words and gestures, we could say a quick prayer for the person who’s offended us. While asking God to encourage our offender to improve both skills and attitude, we might want to ask Him to do some work on us, as well. With the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s give a friendly wave in actions, thoughts, and prayers!