I Am Heartbroken for My Country

It’s less about the outcome of the election and more about how we’ve been responding to that outcome. At this point, it doesn’t matter much whether you voted Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green Party, Little Green Men, or no one at all. The fact of the matter remains, Donald Trump will be our president. But whether we are elated or distraught, the thing I think we’ve most forgotten how to do is truly listen to one another. I was desperately hoping that after the election we would start to get back to a minimal sense of unity, as is usually the case after elections, but it seems most people are only interested in talking over one another instead of listening and carrying out a truly productive dialog.

The problem is, fear is one of the most powerful motivators there is. And people who have been whipped up into a frenzy of fear tend to make irrational, emotionally biased decisions.

The people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement are frustrated because so many white people aren’t truly listening to their concerns and grievances. They feel marginalized because saying “all lives matter” in response doesn’t acknowledge that there is a definite issue that needs to be dealt with. If we can’t understand why the Black Lives Matter movement has resonated so strongly with so many people, we’re never going to be able to address the issues that brought it about. While there are plenty of white people who have lived their entire lives in poverty, living in dangerous neighborhoods, they still don’t fully comprehend how it feels to know that you have a much higher chance of being shot and killed if your skin is dark, or what it’s like to be “guilty until proven innocent”. It’s even harder to understand for white people who have grown up in middle class or affluent neighborhoods.

The police force is frustrated by the public perception that they are bullies, and they are worried every day that they might be sacrificing their lives in the line of duty. If we can’t understand the fear that motivates policemen to respond to threats of violence with violence instead of deescalation, we will never be able to overcome the “us vs. them” mentality that has resulted in so many wrongful deaths recently.

The LGBTQIA community is frustrated because they are being discriminated against with very specific, confrontational legislation, and bullied or attacked because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. If we can’t understand why people with a different sexuality or gender identity are genuinely afraid for their safety and sometimes even their lives, and that all most of them really want is to be accepted members of society, we are not ever going to be able to be allies and make sure that they are treated with fairness and respect.

Muslims, and indeed anyone who even looks like they might be Muslim or from a “terrorist country” are legitimately afraid for the safety of their families. There is still so much residual distrust and suspicion haunting us since 9/11. We need to understand, acknowledge, and attend to the fears that they have, as well as the fear that non-Muslims have about another potential terrorist attack.

The Christian right is frustrated because they fear they are losing ground on what they see as moral issues: abortion, gay marriage, etc. I’ll talk about Christians and the culture war in another post. Or several. Probably several.

Women are afraid that our country indulging a man who has repeatedly disrespected women will send the message that appalling “locker room talk”, sexual harassment, and even worse behaviours are perfectly acceptable, even expected.  Young boys will grow up seeing women as objects instead of equals.

People on both sides of the gun control issue are frustrated with, well, the adamant stance of the people on the other side. If we don’t even attempt to understand the fear that motivates both sides, we’re never going to be able to meet in the middle.

I hope you’re starting to understand what I’m getting at. Each of the major issues I’ve listed has at least some element of basic fear involved, and there are many more that I didn’t list. The thing about fear is that it’s hard to overcome. Many of these fears are quite justified; some, in your mind, may not seem justified, but that doesn’t change the fact that some people do feel them. We can’t really dictate to people what they are and are not allowed to be afraid of, nor should we want to try. It’s also pretty counterproductive to tell someone that their fear is ridiculous, unnecessary, or overreacting. That just shows more clearly that we’re not really listening to their concerns. If we don’t come together, acknowledge that there are some major issues that need to be dealt with, and start working toward some resolutions, we are going to continue to have ghastly, horrific, divisive political campaigns like the one we just endured. We have to realize that the majority of Americans are not acting out of hate, but out of fear. Unfortunately, fear has been responsible for some particularly reprehensible actions (consult the annals of history). The thing is, it just doesn’t work to tell someone that they shouldn’t be afraid, or that they shouldn’t act in response to their fear. It’s part of the human condition.

But we’ve forgotten how to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. In fact, most of the time it seems like we’ve forgotten how to, or perhaps lost the will to even try. It’s so much easier to click share on that smug article gloating about the outcome of the election, or the one bemoaning how horrible it is, and that it’s the end of our country. We’d rather lash out at our opponents, instead of remembering that ultimately, we’re all in this together. While it’s true that there are certainly some extremists on both sides of every issue, the majority of people are somewhere in the middle, in spite of the way it seemed during the election. This is somewhat easier to recognize when we view people as individuals rather than groups (i.e., those people), and if we try to refrain from using exceptionally inflammatory language like calling one another evil, Hitler, Antichrist, etc.

I’d like to propose something. If you see something on social media that makes you feel affronted, afraid, defensive, defiant, incensed, indignant, offended, or outraged, stop for a minute. Take a deep breath. Pause and try to pinpoint exactly what you’re feeling, and why you feel that way. Then, take a second to fact-check and make sure that the objectionable story, article, or statement is founded in truth. Please, please do not pass on misinformation or opinion pieces as fact, or worse yet, pass off satire as truth. Next, take a moment or two to try to see where the other person is coming from. Sometimes this is the hardest part of all. There are simply some aspects of another person’s state of mind that we can’t ever truly comprehend. But at least give it a shot, for the sake of the country. Then, consider what you’d like to accomplish by passing something on. Are you trying to help people understand one another, or are you really just trying to engender outrage at the actions of a few unrepresentative obnoxious individuals. Are you pursuing unity, or are you deliberately encouraging division?

The comedian Craig Ferguson, former host of The Late, Late Show, has a stand-up routine themed “Does This Need to be Said?”. I think we would all be well-served to try this approach as much as possible; it boils down to this:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me right now?

I might even add a corollary: Am I using the most effective, least divisive language and tone that I can, while still getting my point across?

Regardless of whether you were for or against Hillary, if we want to Make America Great Again, we have to acknowledge that we are Stronger Together. United we stand, divided we fall. Those are not trite platitudes, it is an absolute necessity, especially if we are to surmount the challenges that will face us from without.

We’ve got some pretty ugly tears in the fabric of our country. Let’s start the process of mending them, because we’ve got a lot of work to do.

With utmost hope for our restoration,

Karen

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Are There Limits to Forgiveness?

I’ve written on forgiveness many times, because it’s something that is very important to me.  I don’t think it’s healthy to hold on to hurts that people have done to us, even if they have never asked for forgiveness, and don’t “deserve” it.  I realize that forgiveness is extremely difficult in some cases: I was not physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by a parent, family member, or spouse.  I have never been raped, mugged, or any of the those other horrible things that some of you have had to deal with, so maybe you think I can’t understand how difficult it is to forgive.  And you might be right.  But I do know what it is to be deeply hurt by something that someone has said or done to me.  And I know that holding on to that hurt, nurturing it, has never done anything but bring me further pain.

So maybe my definition of forgiveness is different than most.  What I mean by forgiving someone who harms you, regardless of whether they ask for or deserve it, is that you choose not to let it continually rip you apart.  You acknowledge that the damage has been done, and that the person who did it is probably broken in some way.  This does not require that you condone what they did to you, or make excuses for their behavior, or spout trite phrases about how you’re glad it happened because it’s only making you stronger.  True, it may make you stronger, but you don’t have to be happy about the situation.

I have also blogged more than once about removing destructive people from your life.  And when you look at these two ideas side by side, they may seem contradictory.  But really they aren’t.  It is never healthy to have constant contact with someone who is harmful to you, whether it be physically or emotionally.  So how do we reconcile these two ideas?  Well, that is far easier than the forgiveness itself.  Let’s take one of the more extreme cases: spouse abuse.  Nearly everyone will agree that it is best for you to remove yourself from the situation if your spouse is causing you harm.  Completely removing that spouse from your life is far easier if children are not involved, but even then contact can be kept to an extreme minimum, and limited to only situations where you (and any children) remain safe.  Don’t assume that I think this is EASY.  I’m just saying it’s possible, and that it’s the best possible response to a terrible situation.  However, just because you have removed that person from your life does not mean that they can’t continue to harm you.  And here’s where forgiveness comes in:  only if you make a conscious decision to forgive (not excuse or condone) the abuse, can you begin to heal.  This is the difference between letting the wound develop a scar and developing “proud flesh” around the wound.  Make no mistake, whenever someone wounds us deeply, there will be a scar.  But if we are constantly ripping open that old wound, it will never have a chance to heal. You can choose to forgive without remaining in a place where you are at further risk. If you are in an abusive relationship, please contact someone outside the situation, like The National Domestic Violence Hotline or a local abuse resource; something of this magnitude is something no one should have to deal with alone.

Now that we’ve talked about such an extreme example, it seems ridiculous to compare the little things that people do to hurt us.  But I dare say that we sometimes hold on to these little hurts just as tightly.  When we have someone in our lives who has hurt us repeatedly, we start to assume that everything they say or do is explicitly meant to belittle or cause pain.  Maybe that’s human nature; maybe it’s an attempt to protect ourselves from future harm.  But I’m going to throw something out there for you all to contemplate: there are very few people out there who are intentionally horrible people.  Certainly there are some who are inherently self-centered and inconsiderate.  But most of the time, they do not consciously make the decision to deliberately hurt others.  Does this excuse their behavior?  Absolutely not.  But there may be a legitimate reason that this person is so emotionally stunted that they are unaware of how their words or behavior are harmful.

So at this point we have a choice:  Is it possible for us to sit down and discuss with that person the things that they do that are hurting us?  Obviously this is the ideal situation.  It may be that once the person realizes they are being hurtful, they will make changes to prevent it from happening again.  If it is a repeated behavior, the change may not be instantly complete, but we must make efforts to acknowledge that the person is at least working to change.  Because certainly there are things about myself that I am working to change, and I’m not always successful.  (Keep in mind, I am no longer talking about the extreme case mentioned above; I am not suggesting that a victim of abuse sit alone with their abuser and tell them how they have hurt them.  There are other, safer ways to deal with that situation.)

If we refuse to let someone know that what they are doing is hurtful, we can expect them to continue with the hurtful behavior.  We take away from them the opportunity to grow and improve themselves as a person, and perhaps we even fail to protect others from their harmful behavior in the future.  We haven’t even given them a chance to change.

So when I have advocated removing detrimental people from your life, I have been talking about those who have been told that they are harming us yet willfully continue to do so.  If there is someone in your life who continually puts you down, belittles your life/dating/career choices, or otherwise makes you feel small and worthless, even after you have tried to express to them how this hurts you, it’s time to limit your exposure to them.  Like I’ve said before, it’s not always possible to remove them from your life completely, but it is possible to limit their opportunities to hurt you.

If there is someone who is constantly attempting to suck you into their drama, constantly wailing and bemoaning all the little things that are wrong with their life, it’s time to limit your exposure to them.  We should definitely strive to have more positive people in our lives than negative ones.  Does this mean that we abandon friends when they are going through a tough time?  Of course not.  I’m talking about those people who refuse to see the positives in their lives, regardless of how much they have going for them.  I’m talking about people who would rather complain about what they don’t have than be thankful for what they do.  If you have attempted to point out to that person how their negative attitude is harmful to themselves and others, but they shrug it off by saying that’s just the way they are, then they are not interested in growing and changing and they don’t need to be a huge influence on your life.  But don’t just cut them out of your life without giving them a chance to better themselves. And acknowledge their attempt to change, even if that change is slow.

I have really been struggling lately not to fall into the “poor me” trap.  It’s hard some days not to think, “Ugh, I’m so miserable, why me?”  There are few days that I can honestly say that my pain level and my energy level allow me to behave like a “normal” forty-two-year-old, performing tasks that I SHOULD still be capable of at my age.  Most days I feel more like eighty than forty.  Some days I am in mourning for the loss of my youth, and all the things I wanted to do with my life.  Some days I find it easier than others to remember that before I was diagnosed with Addison’s, one of the very real possibilities was MS, which would unequivocally been far worse. I truly hope that if I get to the point where I am spending too much time wallowing in self-pity and I’m bringing others around me down, that someone will tell me rather than just cut me out of their life because I’m too depressing.

So I guess what I’m saying is the same thing that most of my posts come down to: balance.  We have to strike a balance between forgiveness and protecting ourselves.   Balance between giving people the benefit of the doubt and realizing they’re not interested in changing.  Balance between being there for someone going through a rough time and keeping our own positive outlook on life.  It’s not an easy balance to maintain.  But it’s definitely worth the struggle.

What Forgiveness Looks Like

I can’t even think of anything to add to this.  Just…wow.

http://storylineblog.com/2013/03/08/this-is-what-forgiveness-looks-like/

Uplift Your Spirit: Dwell on the Good Stuff Instead of the Bad

Now all you atheist friends and family don’t run away screaming; this is not going to be a “preachy” post.  Regardless of whether you believe in God, I would like you to consider that it is important to nurture our spiritual and emotional well-being.  And regardless of whether you believe in God, you can find some pretty profound words of wisdom in the Bible.

The verse I’d like to contemplate today is this:

In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. (Philippians 4:8, Good News Translation)

This verse means a couple of things to me, as far as practical application goes.  First, we should try to focus on the positive things that happen to us.  If we are constantly focusing on all of the negative things that happen in our lives, we are not going to be happy or emotionally healthy.  Bad stuff happens to good people.  Life is not fair.  But dwelling on the unfairness or the horrible things that happen tends to amplify their effect on us, while dwelling on the good stuff makes us emotionally stronger and more resilient to the bad stuff.  Continually obsessing about the stress in our lives is just stressful!

I find that when I’ve had a bad day (or week), the more I sit around wallowing in how horrible my day was, the worse it really seems.  However, if I put forth the effort to mentally hit the reset button, and get past whatever has upset me (made me angry, sad, frustrated, etc), I can still manage to salvage joy from the day in spite of the potholes.  I need to be able to say, “It is what it is” and move on so that I don’t miss something positive in the day.

I’m not saying you have to be Pollyanna in order to be happy, or that I expect you to be unrealistically cheerful when there is an appropriate call for tears or mourning.  Neither am I saying that you should be flippant about life in general.  I’m just saying that it’s a lot easier to get past the bad stuff if you make a conscious decision to let it go.

Second, we should try to focus on the positive things we can do for others.  Nothing can uplift your spirit faster than helping someone else.  If we are making a point of dwelling on positive things, I truly think that it makes us more receptive to opportunities to do something positive for someone else, whereas if we are busy dwelling on our crappy day, we are too focused on ourselves to recognize the needs of others.

As a corollary to these thoughts, we will also find our relationships with others strengthened if we focus on the positive aspects of their character rather than the negative ones.  If we are engrossed in the things about others that annoy, frustrate, or anger us, our relationships WILL suffer.  Everyone does something that gets on our nerves at times.  We have to choose to let that go and instead intentionally call to mind the things that we love or appreciate about that person.  With some people this is harder to do than with others!  But any relationship will benefit if we can train ourselves to do this.  It will make your home life far more peaceful, and probably your workplace as well.

I will add a word here about forgiveness (I will likely post more on it later).  A person does not need to ASK for your forgiveness in order for you to forgive them.  Often people don’t “deserve” to be forgiven for wronging us.  But harboring negative feelings toward someone because of something they’ve done to you really only hurts YOU.  Make the decision now to forgive that person, regardless of whether they have apologized, regardless of whether they have asked you to forgive them, regardless of whether they deserve it. I can’t emphasize this enough:  YOU deserve it!  It is not good for you to be sustaining those toxic feelings–it is only poisoning you!

What about you?  Have you noticed that if you dwell on the bad stuff you feel more down, but if you make a conscious effort to focus on something positive it makes it a little easier to bear?  Have you noticed that the way you feel about someone is affected to which aspects of their character you choose to focus on, to define who they are to you?