Nov  2017 21
Everyday Decency

The word “decent” is a maligned word. For some people, “decent” says too little. My wife once, unintentionally, insulted a photographer who is a great guy and an excellent photographer. He had offered to photograph our family after completing a difficult adoption process.

Cheri replied, “That would be great. We don’t have any decent photos of us together.” His retort, said with a spritz of sarcasm: “That’s what I do. I take decent photos.”

For some people, the word “decent” is of the same ilk as “civil”: middle-class efforts to tone down justifiably-strong feelings and protests. “Act decently, please.”

However, I long for more decency in public life. I would love to vote for and support more decent politicians. I pine for more decency among religious leaders. I would love to deal with more decent individuals and companies in every corner of my world.

Decency is in short supply.

What do I mean by decent? The word “decent” is derived from a Latin word meaning “fitting.” To do the decent thing is to do what is right, what is fitting, regardless of the personal consequence. “That is very decent of you.” Really, can we hear that phrase more, please?

Decency is in short supply. Basic respect. Basic kindness. Basic humanity.

Some religious people act far more decently most of the time than some non-religious people. The operative word in that sentence is “some.” Some of the most religious people use their religion as a righteous bludgeon. Religion can lead to indecent behavior as judged by anyone outside of a band of co-religionists (something like this dynamic is going on in the Alabama senatorial contest).

I suspect there are common decencies, regardless of religion, that are sine qua non (“unimaginable without”) for any community worth living within. So, I offer this list of everyday decencies. And, in this Thanksgiving week, when I experience one, I will remember to be thankful.

  • When my car gets fixed right the first time, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When a contractor charges a fair price and delivers good work, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When a preacher takes the time to dig into a text and wrestles for its blessing, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When an airport gate agent is empowered by their employer to act with kindness, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When the police protect and serve, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When an employer pays a fair wage and when an employee gives a good day’s work, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When a teacher remembers to teach students and not only content, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When elected officials protect the rights of political minorities and everyone who is out-of-power, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When partners act in a mutually loving way with each other, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When an author gives me cause to think, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When I get to use anything of quality—from coffee to a power tool—that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When someone acts according to the Golden Rule, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When men respect women in word and deed, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When two people who differ deeply make their best efforts to listen and understand, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When someone who has wronged someone else both confesses and changes their behavior, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When someone who makes a mistake owns the mistake, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.
  • When drivers honor the invisible “zipper” of merging into heavy traffic, that’s decent, and I’m thankful.

Now, there is more to community than everyday decency. There are times to protest. There are times to disrupt. There are times to assert strongly. There are times to demand. There are times forcefully to say “Enough!” and “No!” But without sufficient everyday decency, the recipe for community lacks necessary ingredients.

“Decent” is not a great word to apply to a work of art. But right now, in American society and religion, experiencing more “decent” behavior would be remarkable.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
Phillips Theological Seminary offers Christian graduate theological education
in service of intelligent, just, and compassionate religious and civic communities. We welcome
students to a safe space for truth-seeking conversations about the Bible, Jesus, and faithful living.
Courses available on campus and online for certificate, diploma, MDiv, MAMC, MASJ, & MTS
programs, and on campus for the DMin program.

Phillips Theological Seminary

901 N. Mingo Road
Tulsa, OK 74116

p 918-610-8303
f 918-610-8404

Campus & Directions

Site content © 2005-18 Phillips Theological Seminary

The materials on this website are owned, held, or licensed by Phillips Theological Seminary and are available for personal, non-commercial, and educational use, provided Phillips is properly cited. Any commercial use of the materials, without the written permission by Phillips Theological Seminary, is strictly prohibited.

Site design, programming, and CMS © 2005-18 Verdend Interactive

Like PTS on Facebook
Follow PTS on Twitter
Subscribe to RSS and Podcasts