Recently my husband and I visited the Pilgrim Monument, which honors the spot in Provincetown, Mass., where it is believed the Pilgrims first landed in the New World in 1620.
Before going ashore, 41 men on the Mayflower signed what is now known as the Mayflower Compact, a 200-word contract to "combine [themselves] together into a civil body politic, for [their] better ordering and preservation."
How carefully those 200 words must have been weighed before being chosen. Their pledge to form a "civil body politic" was a commitment to conduct themselves - "not barbarously" (one way in which the "Oxford English Dictionary" defines "civil") - but in a polite, courteous, and civilized fashion.
What can we do when people don't conduct themselves this way today?
A few years ago, I was charged with improving relationships between my department and another department. There were several obstacles to this, but one seemed insuperable.
A key manager in the other department disliked my department intensely - and me along with it - and fiercely resisted attempts to foster cooperation. She countered every suggestion with a sarcastic appraisal of why it absolutely would not, could not, work, and, in the process, always managed to make me the butt of some unkind joke.
Although I tried to laugh at these jokes as loudly as others, I began to dread meetings with her. So much so, that one morning I wanted to call in sick. It certainly wasn't right that my sincere efforts to improve the relationship were met with such hostility.
In desperation, I prayed to God for an answer that would bring us all peace. As I stopped and silently acknowledged God's tender love and constant care for all His children, I remembered a sentence that Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, admired and repeated, but whose original author is not known: "It is our pride that makes another's criticism rankle, our self-will that makes another's deed offensive, our egotism that feels hurt by another's self-assertion."
This was not the answer I had expected. After all, wasn't she in the wrong?
But as I considered this insight, I remembered how Mrs. Eddy emphasized again and again that God is good and His creations are good.
Who was I to point a finger at one of God's children and scold her for being bad? Did I have enough humility to accept that God's creation is good, infinitely better than I, with my limited perceptions and understanding of the universe, now know? Did I have enough humility to relinquish my self-will and hurt pride and turn wholeheartedly to Him to see "what great things He has done" (I Sam. 12:24, New International Version)?
As I prayed along these lines, the dread drained away, leaving only a profound magnanimity toward this woman and her whole department. I dropped the matter into God's hands and went to work.
That day marked a complete reversal of my relationship with this woman. I never again heard a sarcastic remark from her. She became uniformly complimentary and supportive of my efforts, and on more than one occasion went out of her way to do me a good turn.
That clear glimpse I had of the goodness of God's creation wiped away all the harsh words, restoring not only our civility, but our sisterly love, so that I, too, could say, "What great things God has done!"
Love one another
with mutual affection;
outdo one another
in showing honor.
New Revised Standard Version