You will NOT talk to ME that way
In an emergency situation recently, I tried urgently to get help from a person in authority. The response to the situation stunned me. The authority figure yelled, “You will NOT talk to ME that way. You WILL straighten up and speak to ME with respect.” Later, I was ruminating on the conversation and his phrasing. Why did he rebuke that way? If a person shouldn’t speak a certain way (I wasn’t disrespectful, by the way), what does HE have to do with it? He turned the emergency into a demonstration of his authority and my relative insignificance. Hmm. Do I do that with my children? With anyone? Anywhere? If I shouldn’t speak a certain way, I just shouldn’t. I should show respect to others because they are created in God’s image, not because of WHO they are or how unimportant I am by comparison. I prayed about it. I asked God to teach me to train my children to speak with respect because they love and honor Him, not because they are less valuable than others. What does using the phrase “You will NOT speak to ME that way” teach? It teaches the hearers to abuse those they deem inferior to themselves or to excuse abusive behavior in others. Abusers abuse because they feel entitled to treat some people with disrespect. This phrasing reinforces that idea in everyone’s minds. It sends a message that some people are so special that one must be careful to only speak in ways which reinforce their sense of entitlement and superiority. But what about everyone else? Some Bible verses that came to mind:
Deut 1:17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s… James 2: 8-9 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
Now when responding to my kids’ sassiness, I am very careful to only instruct them to demonstrate honor and respect. I point out that their speech is disrespectful and that they must show honor to others. I don’t bring ME into it. I might coach them to “Show honor” or “Demonstrate a respectful voice,” or to “Try again and change your tone.” I might ask them, “What’s Ephesians 4:29?” (Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.) or “What’s Colossians 4:6?” (Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.) Or I might direct them to, “Examine yourselves” (from 1 Cor 11:28 and the inspiration for the answer to the Children’s Catechism question “Who may partake of the Lord’s supper? [Internet Archive link]“). I instruct the children to show honor because it’s right, not because of WHO they are addressing. If they are speaking, it should be with speech that brings honor to God and all his image bearers, not just the ones who flaunt their authority.