A man I very much admire
and I had a chat.
One of those Facebook chats that come about sometimes
when someone put something out there
In this case I was the culprit,
lamenting the use, by people people with low empathy
(or no empathy) of the laugh emoji
as a response to a serious statement.
I see a laugh emoji, when a person is lamenting covid cases,
or when they are made a values statement, or even just a factual statement,
as an act of minimization and marginalization.
It says “who cares?” at the best, and “you are stupid” at the worst.
My dear friend, who is a man of compassion, felt me comments were unnecessary and judgmental. He also felt (at the same time) that my comments in response to a person
who was on the “personal freedom’ side of the vaccination issues were too harsh.
“That seems harsh and unloving.”
I can’t say he was wrong.
The conversation has plagued me all night,
in part because it reminds me how difficult it is to navigate through these times when extremism is a way of life for many.
I believe we need to be kind.
As Ian Maclaren, (real name John Watson, a Presbyterian Minister) minister once noted (1897), “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle,”
Indeed the call to respond with kindness and love that comes from Jesus is extreme.
He took the need to not respond with violence and retribution as far as dying on the cross.
How far do I give up my rights?
How far do I give up my right to be right?
How far do I go in trying to reconcile rather than in trying to shame?
As far as Jesus took those things.
And yet, I recognize that Jesus had his limits.
He did flip tables.
He did tell the rich young ruler just how much of this possessions he had to divest,
and did not soften his stance when the young man was unwilling to do that.
He told Peter he was “full of it”, numerous times.
He told Peter he would fail (and Peter did).
He stood up to the Pharisees and the Sadducees
and at times made them very uncomfortable,
using the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, to highlight their hypocrisy.
Is there a place where putting others before yourself, being sacrificial (unto the cross) become a problem?
Can it be that “turning the other check” and “loving our enemies,” and “doing good to those that harm us” has its limits?
Is there a point where we have to push back?
Even confront? Resist things that we know (hopefully) to be wrong?
Can we call out lies? Overtly!
Can we push back at people who are engaged in harmful, abusive behavior?
Can kindnesss be toxic?
At its worst, kindness can have a dark side.
It can allow one’s self to be eroded. It can destroy necessary boundaries that keep us healthy. I can also be enabling. It can effectually be the equivalent of standing by and letting others abuse and harm.
On the other hand. Failing to be kind can take us into really dark places. At times I find myself in those dark places. I love this paragraph by Tracy A. Dennis-Tiwary, where shew talks about a thing she calls “moral disgust”
“Moral disgust is currently the default emotion in our politically-divided country and it has toxic social and emotional effects on all of us. Moral disgust can be thought of as the universal repugnance people feel toward extremely bad conduct, like abuse of the vulnerable, cruelty, corruption, and so on. Moral disgust in a relationship is toxic because, like physical disgust, when we’re disgusted by someone, we want nothing to do with them. We want to “expel” the offender and their offensive behavior or beliefs, like spitting out rotten food. Even more radically, in the throes of disgust, we no longer think of the other as quite completely human, and, therefore, not truly worthy of being heard and understood. Sociologists call this tacit belief that one’s “in-group” is more human than an “out-group” infrahumanization and it’s dangerous for healthy social relationships.”
What do we do? Many of us feel paralyzed by these divisions, whereas others feel overwhelmed with anger and disgust.
I am not sure what we do.
I continue to believe we have to, in every way, counteract hate, and violence, and we have to confront behaviors that destroy the common good.
How do we create understanding and promote positive change (rather than just feed the divide?)
I think we start with listening, which can be difficult to do.
But the reality is we can reach out an get to know the other person better,
and understanding what the “great burden” they are carrying.
Or at least what got them to the place in which they dwell.
(A shout out here to non-violent communication)
Here we note what is happening without blaming or criticizing. “I notice you just said”
Then we express OUR feelings. “When you said that (or did that) I felt”
We own how what is happening affects us.
And then we share what we need. “I need to understand why you feel that way.”
“I need to understand why you believe that.” Give me more information! Where is this stuff I am getting from you coming from?
Then we make a request. “Can we restart this conversation.” “Can we both go in and look at all the evidence together.”
Of course we struggle with the “other side” isn’t open to this approach.
David Brooks of the New York Times once wrote an article on “How to Engage a Fanatic.” Can you , he asks, have a civil conversation with an extremist.
He suggests that to have a decent conversation you can’t confront them with equal and opposite force, but must use compassion and civility. You have to confront extremism with love.
“All you have to do” he writes, “is try to imitate Martin Luther King, who thrust his love into his enemies’ hearts in a way that was aggressive, remorseless and destabilizing.”
This is not easy.
None of this is.
Sometimes we don’t go far enough with our kindness
Sometimes we go to far.
I have no great solutions here!
And only a belief that love is the way, and that violent confrontation makes us exactly what we are trying to confront.
So I end in tension. The tension between confrontation and reconciliation. Between the need to be kind, and the need to stand firm. Between the need to stop evil, and the need to be compassionate and empathetic.
I know I will at times be kind, in the right way
I know I times I will let people erode my boundaries and leave me bruised and manipulated.
I know at times I will be too harsh, and will not act in a way that promotes reconciliation.
So all I can do, as I read a comment on Facebook
Or hear a comment made in person.
Or listen to the pundits on TV
All I can do as I am confronted with things that hurt my soul
Is stop, breathe, pray (I need spiritual resources here), open myself to the presence
of the one who knew how to confront kindly,
and then respond. Hopefully living out what I say I believe.
Hopefully being a person who reflects the Jesus I say I love.
May God have mercy