We say “Ladies and gentlemen” and never “gentlemen and ladies,” even though we say “men and women,” not “women and men.” In the same way, it’s always “bread and butter,” “thunder and lightning,” or “highs and lows” – never the other way around.
In some expressions we can see a certain kind of logic in the way we place one word before another – as with time order (“cause and effect,” “crime and punishment,” etc.); most important first (“bread and butter,” “fish and chips,” etc.); better first (“good and bad,” “pros and cons,” etc.). But often there is no seeming reason for putting one word before another, yet it’s always “salt and pepper,” “cloak and dagger” – and countless other expressions where we naturally place one before the other.
The clearest example of this kind of unwritten law of what we say is probably found in pairs of words containing the letter “I” where we always put the “I” first. That’s why we always say “hip hop” and not “hop hip,” or “tittle-tattle” and not “tattle-tittle,” “flip-flop” and not “flop-flip,” “drip-drop” and not “drop-drip,” etc. It’s hard to think of an exception to this tendency – we put “I” before other letters in dozens of pairs of words probably for no other reason than it seems natural, easy, and comfortable to us.
The actions in our lives can be a lot like that, too. Although we may not consciously think about it and were never taught to do so, we tend to place “I” before other people in our interactions and relationships. We may not mean to do so, but we often just naturally stress our own needs before those of others whether it is in the grocery store, or driving on the roads, in office meetings, or in talking with friends. In countless ways we all tend to put “I” first. It’s just the natural thing to do.
But the Bible turns life around in this regard and shows us that it is actually a whole lot better to resist what comes naturally in our attitudes and actions towards others. For example, the apostle Paul reminds us that we should “count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3), and that is definitely an attitude of putting others before ourselves.
It’s one of the most basic principles of Christianity, but especially in difficult times of social upheaval and difficulties – when we may be particularly tempted to put our own needs ahead of those of others – we have to make a conscious effort not to place the naturally preferred “I” first.
When supplies are short in stores, when people are tempted to hoard more provisions than they actually need at this time, Paul’s continuing advice applies more than ever: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).
It may be natural to put ourselves first, but Christianity calls us to a much better way in which we do not do things because they are the “natural” thing to do – but the way that ultimately is the best for us and for everyone else.