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By Susan Hamel in All Sorts

Does the sixth commandment mean we should treat each other and ourselves with love and respect?

The story of the decalogue, which is by no means as straightforward as commonly taught, goes like this: Moses goes up the mountain and spends time with Yahweh, who gives him the ten commandments on tablets of stone. At some point they get smashed in a fit of temper and Moses gets another set. However, no one is quite sure that what was written on the tablets is the decalogue. It appears that two or even three different stories have been edited together to get the story in Exodus, and there are many inconsistencies between them. But no matter how the commandments were accumulated or delivered they still represent a very foundational ethical framework for the Abrahamic faiths.
At seminary we studied a book that updated and expanded the ten commandments called The Ten Challenges by Leonard Felder. This book was originally published in 1997 and has dated a bit, but it is still full of thoughtful analysis of the commandments given to Moses by God. Today I want to focus on the sixth commandment (thou shalt not murder) which has been interpreted by Felder to mean “thou shalt not crush a person’s spirit”. This is useful because many of us have no experience with murdering another person. It’s easy to think that this commandment doesn’t apply. But how many times do we gravely wound another’s spirit by unkind words or deeds, or indeed wound ourselves?
Recently, on Twitter, I saw a picture of a person at an airport who was sleeping on the floor, obviously worn out from a long flight. The person who took the photo proceeded to berate them (like all good trolls it was online, of course, rather than in person) for taking up space in front of seats. They were “selfish and rude”, continued the poster, and deserved to be shamed for their actions. Other posters agreed with them, even though it was obvious from the picture that there were plenty of other seats free in the gate area. That sleeper could have been me as I have often stretched out on the floor in an effort to catch a bit of rest between flights. I try to stay out of the way, but maybe I’ve blocked a seat or two in my time. I find it very concerning that some people have so little compassion that they would magnify themselves by shaming others for such small infractions. Maybe we as Christians wouldn’t do this: we wouldn’t troll someone or post a picture of them without their express permission. But do you, as I do, look at content posted by others, and find it amusing? By participating in this, however tangentially, we are encouraging it. We are breaking the sixth commandment.
I also beat myself up quite regularly, and this is something I’ve struggled with my whole life. My efforts are never good enough to please my inner critic and any error gets magnified all out of proportion to the consequences. I’m working on self-compassion, have been for years, but I still find myself stuck by my inability to live up to the standards my inner critic sets for me. I’m very good at being understanding towards others and helping them gain perspective on their problems and issues. I wish I was as good at treating myself this way! Do you also find compassion for others but not yourself? Remembering that the sixth commandment requires us to be gentle with ourselves as well as others can help.
Life in the 21st century is full of challenges. It is hard sometimes to treat each other and ourselves with love and respect, especially when we have so many opportunities to be anonymously cruel. Does knowing that God grieves when we don’t keep the sixth commandment help us to try harder? In my case it does. What about you?
Susan Benson Hamel