My elderly friend was outraged. Perhaps not outraged, but certainly highly indignant. Was it necessary, he spluttered, for a young driver to overtake him at speed, hooting all the while, simply because he had refused to turn into the lane designated for the use of emergency vehicles, merely for this young whippersnapper to be able to pass? And that at a speed far beyond the limit! What, he demanded, (and I would love to use the phrase ‘in high dudgeon’ here), has become of common decency?
What indeed? Reading a Dorothy Sayers crime novel published some decades ago, I was delighted and I admit, amused, to find phrases which seem to have disappeared from the English language: ‘Jolly decent of you!’ ; ‘She’s a decent sort’ ; ‘He did a decent day’s work’….
What gives one pause is that with the disappearance of the word decent the sentiment of decency seems to have disappeared also. We hardly understand what it means anymore. And looking at the events in South Africa during the past week or two and at the growing polarization in the country, it might be worth looking anew at decency, and the meaning of it.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines decency as follows: Propriety of behaviour; what is accepted as being required by good taste or delicacy; avoidance of obscene language and gestures and of undue exposure of person; respectability…
The definition of the adjective decent, includes seemly, not immodest, and used colloquially: kind, generous, obliging. It comes from the Latin decentia / decere – to be fitting.
Our beloved country is being torn apart by violence and anger and growing racial hatred. And fingers are being pointed in every possible direction – always away from ourselves. Paul might have been talking to South Africans when he writes to the Galatians: If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other…
In the sermon to my congregation this past Sunday morning we were urged to allow the Holy Spirit to change our sinful nature, and according to Galatians 5, to live a life by the Spirit. And the fruit of the Spirit, proclaims the well-known verse 22, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Common decency, in fact.