You’d expect Mark Batterson, lead pastor of the District-based National Community Church, to preach the Christian message, and he does. His congregation will host the annual sunrise service at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday.
These days, though, Mr. Batterson is also calling out “three words that change everything” in a new book from Multnomah titled “Please Sorry Thanks.”
His thesis is that we’ve lost “the art and science” of gracious communication and interaction with one another, something as evident in pandemic-era shopping lines as it is on Facebook.
Mr. Batterson believes using those words sincerely and with a humble spirit provides connectivity and openness between people. Conversely, he argues in the just-released book, ignoring those words damages our relationships and can even hurt society.
“I think we find ourselves at a cultural moment where our kind of political polarization coupled with some of the racial tension, throw in a COVID pandemic, and you got sort of the makings of declining levels of civility, and just treating each other in honoring and respectful ways,” he said in a video interview.
Mr. Batterson said, “I just think it’s a little bit easier to, shall we say, demonize people on social media, as opposed to when you’re face to face, you can look someone in the eye.”
Social media missteps by public figures often ignite controversy and pushback. For lesser-known people, a bad choice of words on Twitter or Facebook can rupture friendships or worse. Mr. Batterson said digital communication is void of the dimensions face-to-face interaction allows.
“In social media, you lose the nuance of emotion,” he said. “You lose the nuance of facial expressions and gestures, and I would even say, you can post an emoji, but it’s still not the same thing as genuine human emotion.”
Another downside of social media, Mr. Batterson said, is that we can learn too much about our friends, co-workers and neighbors, including things that could be off-putting and take our focus away from those things we have in common.
“I don’t think we were designed to know everything about everyone all the time,” he said. “It’s almost like eating from the [biblical] Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that it’s past our human capacity. We don’t want to be unaware of human suffering or pain, I’m not saying that. But I just don’t think we have the capacity to absorb everything about everyone all the time.”
He pointed to the diminishing use of “please” in human interaction as one example of society’s civility crisis.
“’Please,’” Mr. Batterson said, “levels the playing field and has a way of opening doors of opportunity like nothing else. Even if it’s someone that we maybe have the right to ask something of, I’m still going to say please, because no one wants to be told what to do.”
The pastor, who has authored 23 books, including “The Circle Maker,” a bestseller, said a mentor told him there were two kinds of people in the world, those who say “Here I am,” and those who voice, “There you are!”
He said the first kind is egocentric, while the second is “all about adding value to other people,” including the use of “please” when making a request.
Mr. Batterson said the self-centered person “will not find fulfillment” or reach their potential with such a view. The people who help others, he said, are the ones “that experience success in life.”
Of equal importance, he said, are both “sorry” and “thanks,” words that sometimes also get lost in our interactions. Being able to apologize is a way of building trust, he added.
“As you get older, it seems to me like it should get easier to say ‘sorry,’ it should get easier to admit that you’re wrong because you have a pretty good track record of it,” Mr. Batterson said. “I think ‘sorry’ is the way that fences are mended.”
Saying thank you, he said, is a way we can improve our perception of the world around us.
“Psychologists talk about the negativity bias, that we have about 60,000 thoughts a day, and about 80% of those thoughts are negative,” Mr. Batterson said. Therefore, “we have a problem that means we have to overcome the negative self-talk.”
He said his method is to keep a “gratitude journal” that “forces me to notice the things I am grateful for. If we’re looking for something to complain about, we will always find it, [and] if we’re looking for something to be grateful for, we will always find that.”
Mr. Batterson said the 10 Hebrew spies whose negative report of their scouting mission to the Holy Land overruled the positive testimony of spies Joshua and Caleb and “cost the nation of Israel 40 years in the wilderness. Ten negative people can sink the ship.”
To combat that, he suggests cultivating “a positivity based on theology, that there is a good God who gives good gifts.”
He said, “When we recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from God, that it’s all from him and it’s all for him, now I live my life from a place of gratitude. That leads to generosity. And then it’s about everybody else. I think that’s where joy in life is found.”