I Hold You In Contempt

Just read through a good article in the NYT by Arthur Brooks entitled “Our Culture of Contempt.” 
Brooks rightly identifies what I consider one of the most troubling trends in our society right now, contempt for those who are not like you. Quoting Arthur Schopenhauer, Brooks writes: contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.” In today’s culture creating contempt for the other is the vehicle for promoting your own agenda.  Contempt is a mixture of anger, disgust, and hate. Brooks points out that in the current political climate “each side thinks it is driven by benevolence, while the other is evil and motivated by hatred — and is, therefore, an enemy with whom one cannot negotiate or compromise.” What Brooks observes I have experienced all too often when holding an opposing view, I am vilified. In being contemptuous “we are completely right and the other side is made up of knaves and fools. It strokes our own biases while affirming our worst assumptions about those who disagree with us.”

Dr. Susan Heitler sees contempt as an arrogant ("I know best") disregard, dismissal and denigration of others' concerns. When I allow contempt to foster it closes minds and stops meaningful communication while destroying relationships as it turns the other into a disgusting enemy not even worthy of consideration. John Gottman sees contempt as the “kiss of death” in any relationship. Contemptuous speech is toxic for everyone both speaker and hearer.

As a Christ follower, I must rid myself of any speech or behavior that is motivated by contempt regardless of how well veiled it may be. I have used humor and sarcasm to ridicule not only an idea or opinion but the person themselves in an attempt to diminish them. This is blatant disrespect for a fellow human being and behavior inconsistent with discipleship. I can disagree with a thought without belittling the person. I must replace contempt with empathy in order to hear and validate the humanity of the person I even while vehemently disagreeing with their position. 


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