Love in Trifles

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All communities experience friction, and wise communities develop manners and customs designed to minimize that friction. It has been well said that manners should be defined as “love in trifles.”Exhort

But there is a trap to be avoided at the very beginning. When someone blunders in the manners department, through ignorance or thoughtlessness, those who know better should also know that it is good manners to overlook a breach of good manners. We have to do this carefully, because we want to lean into the enforcement of good manners, but without calling down wrath on the offender.

This is because we are seeking to reduce the total amount of friction over all, not multiply occasions for grievance.

Manners are just a way of encouraging love to flow in predictable, recognizable channels so that the language of love might be heard and appreciated in small but pronounced gestures.

When men stand when a lady approaches. When a woman brings a hostess gift when she and her husband are invited to dinner. When a man opens the car door for his wife. When a man takes off his ball cap when a prayer is said. When a thoughtful thank you card is sent after enjoying hospitality.

Now one of the things that is notable about all these things—with the exception of the one about the ball cap—is that the Bible doesn’t explicitly require any of them. But the Bible does requires the existence of such forms of communication in principle. The Scriptures tell us to honor all men (1 Pet. 2:17), and honor is a public activity. Honor that is hidden away in the heart is not honor at all. Honor hidden is honor withheld.

The Bible tells us to do a certain thing, and so it is up to us to form and maintain the vocabulary for doing so. To use a metaphor, the Scriptures require the salute, but does not specify whether it should be the British palm out or the American palm down.

So give yourself to learn basic manners—not so that you can put on airs, but so that you can love your neighbor more than you do now.

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8 years ago

Oh, amen to this post! Good manners are absolutely critical and interestingly, some of our founding fathers stressed the importance of manners as being vital in our democracy, in helping to create the foundation that would make it all work.

The bible does not speak of these things directly, but I think Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the Spirit, including peace, longsuffering, gentleness, temperance, give us some idea as to the heart behind good manners, allowing one to get the essence of the idea even if you aren’t quite certain which fork to use first.

Tom Brainerd
Tom Brainerd
8 years ago

Thanks for the nudge, Pastor Wilson.