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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Worthy of Love

I saw a post on Facebook a couple of days ago that said, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy”.  And it really got to me.  It was posted on a faith-based page, and I think it’s primarily directed towards Christians, but we could all benefit from adopting this attitude.

There is no passage in the Bible that contains qualifiers for the mandate to love one another.  Nowhere does it say, “love people who deserve it”, or “love people who never sin” or “love people who love you in return”.  It just says, LOVE one another.  There is no restriction on age, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, wealth, or any other of those lame excuses we come up with to justify NOT loving one another.

So the challenge for us as Christians (and I dare say everyone else too) is to decide what actions constitute loving one another unconditionally.  No restrictions or qualifiers.  One need not embrace the homosexual lifestyle to love a homosexual, just as we don’t have to be the same color in order to love one another.  I guess I developed this attitude pretty early on in life, because one of my very best friends in early elementary school was a black girl, and I was completely baffled as to why the color of her skin should have any bearing on whether or not we should be friends, any more than someone’s hair color or eye color should.  I never really have understood that.

This also kind of underlines how prejudice is a LEARNED behavior.  We don’t pop out of the womb automatically disliking someone based solely on some random characteristic; the sad truth is that we TEACH this to our children.  We teach them by words and deeds to treat someone differently because of their beliefs, their race, or who they choose to spend their lives with.

Until we reach the point where it simply doesn’t matter, we haven’t found true equality.  This includes those who think they should be treated better simply because their group has been treated so poorly in the past.  In fact, even if you personally have been mistreated, it doesn’t mean that you are entitled to preferential treatment to “make up” for it.  That’s not any more equality than the mistreatment.

So that should be our goal: to get the the point where it makes absolutely no difference what color you are, or where you were born, or who you love.  I can love you regardless, for I should not be judging whether you are “worthy”.  That is the pinnacle of equality.

Why Non-Christians Want Nothing To Do With Christianity

I know I said I was (mostly) going to avoid discussing religion and politics.  But something happened to a friend of mine recently that’s had me internally fuming, and I’m afraid you guys are going to have to tolerate one of my rants; I apologize at the outset.  For those who can stomach it all the way to the end, I’m hoping there’s going to be something redeeming about it.  Maybe even a lesson to learn.

Anyone who knows me hopefully knows that I am a Christian.  I try not to be one of those judgmental, Bible-thumping, gay-hating, abortion clinic bombing people you always see on the news, because I honestly believe that Jesus had no intention of having his followers behave that way.  In fact, it really upsets me when I get lumped together with those people, but maybe I should save that for another post.  Ook.  That means at least one more religion post.  😛  But for the purposes of today’s post, I’m going to make a separation between myself and the media portrayal of what a “Christian” is.

Let’s start with a little background, then.   I’m not going to debate whether Jesus existed or not, because that’s not really doubted.  Plenty of non-Christian historians have attested to the fact that he did in fact exist.  But I think all of the infighting, and in fact the thing that hurts anyone trying to live a Christ-like life, is that there is so much debate about who he was.  So since you’re reading my blog, you get stuck hearing my opinion.

One of the most prominent things about Jesus is that he was a minimalist. He hated the regimented, legalistic, ritualistic farce that the Jewish religion had become.  The leaders (Sadducees and Pharisees, if you want to know) had added rule upon rule of what a “good Jew” had to do in order to earn God’s favor.  (Sound like any other religions we know?) This was not ever what God intended.  Some of the rules God had set down, such as the ones we know as the 10 Commandments, were meant for everyone.  Some were meant to protect the Jews from getting sucked into worshiping the gods of the people around them, which in a lot of cases included some pretty freaky stuff like child sacrifice and cutting/burning/mutilating oneself as a form of worship.  And some were meant only for the Levites, who were the group that was supposed to lead in worship, and were to keep themselves to a higher standard.

But over the years the Jewish leaders had added literally hundreds upon hundreds of “laws” to the simple ones that God had first given them.  So Jesus tried to boil it all down, super-simple.  Two things:  Love God, and love your neighbor.  That’s it.  Not that it’s EASY, mind you, but it IS simple.  Truly every other rule, every one of the 10 commandments, is covered by these two things.  If you love your neighbor, you’re not going to steal his stuff, or lie about him, or try to take his wife, or hate him because he has more than you.  And if you love God, you’re going to want to show your love for your neighbor even more.

But humans are stupid and stubborn, and we tend to screw things up and make them far more complicated than they ever need to be.  And because we have this overwhelming desire to feel better about ourselves, we want to make other people’s flaws and mistakes worse than our own.  *I* might be embezzling millions of dollars from my company, but at least I’m not gay.  *I* might be taking money on the sly to vote the way an elite group wants me to, but at least I’m not a baby-murdering abortionist.  I know it sounds like I’m writing a parody here, but there really are people who feel this way, some quite loudly.

So all this to say, I have a friend who has had a very horrible couple of years.  She has had so many things go wrong in her life, and so very few friends to cling to and help hold her up through this tough period.  But she really wanted to resolve some things and clear the air with a couple of the leaders in a church that we had both previously attended, and was not only refused a simple meeting, but in fact threatened that the assistance that had been offered by their men’s group to help her move would be withdrawn.  Bullying at its best, from leaders of the church, no less.  It’s abysmal enough how they treat non-Christians, but they even treat their own like this.   No wonder the rest of the world looks at Christians and wants nothing to do with what they have to say.

The rest of the world  sees “Christians” on the news shouting at the top of their lungs about all the things they’re doing wrong, and trying to force their beliefs on others by passing laws ordering them to behave the way they want, but really the reasonably moderate Christians are the ones who need to clean house.  We don’t need to scream at the world, or try to legislate morality.  In fact, I’d dare say that we shouldn’t have to speak at all.  Our affiliation with Christ should be obvious to others around us without ever having to say a word.  We should put others above ourselves, offer help whenever it is within our power, and love those who don’t agree with us.  Even those who hate us because they associate us with those extremists who regrettably keep getting handed a microphone.

So I apologize to all of you for the prominent, visible and vocal representatives of Christianity you see on TV.  I assure you, the extremists are in the minority, even though it doesn’t seem like it.  And they are NOT AT ALL what Christ intended his church to be.  Unfortunately, you will find these hypocrites closer to home as well, maybe even right in your own family.  But I would ask you to do two things:  please don’t assume that all Christians are like that, and please remember that all Christians are still human and still prone to making some really stupid, selfish, sometimes hurtful choices.  Being Christians certainly doesn’t make us perfect.  We are flawed creatures just like everyone else on the planet, and when we forget that is when we do the most damage to the name “Christian”.

And if you ever see me behaving like that, please call me out on it.  I have many non-Christian friends and family who I love dearly, and I would never want any of you to think that your beliefs should jeopardize our relationship.  I don’t want you to avoid being around me because you’re afraid of what I might secretly think about you, or that we would get into a beastly argument.  Most of you already know this, but if you have doubts, don’t.  If you’re interested in civil debate, I’m all for it, but I’m just as happy spending time with you and enjoying your company without religion ever entering the picture.  Because to me, relationships are of utmost importance.  And I really think that’s what Jesus intended all along.

 

 

Inner Beauty: Respect for Others

I started to come around to this topic in my last post, and I’d like to delve a little more deeply today.  I think one of the most fundamental things about someone’s character is how they treat others that they consider “less” than themselves.  Less beautiful, less affluent, less privileged, etc.  The issue here is that they think of them as less of a person.  Just because someone has less money than you (something that can be objectively calculated) does not make them any less of a person.  Nor does the perception that they are “less attractive” or “less moral” (things that cannot be objectively determined).

But the thing that has been at the forefront of my mind lately is the uproar about gay marriage.  I don’t want to start a knock-down, drag-out argument here, because I think that there have already been far too many on this topic.  Many of you know that I am a Christian, and I’m sure you are (unfortunately) aware of how many “Christians” have been reacting to the subject of gay marriage.  People who know me well know exactly how I feel about that subject.

Let me put forth this idea:  REGARDLESS of whether you think that gay marriage should be legalized (an issue that should be resolved between you and God, not you and some reporter, or you and Facebook) there is no excuse for the hate-mongering that has been going on in the name of Christ, any more than invoking the name of Allah excuses what happened on 9-11.  

The issue here is not even really about gay marriage, or equal rights, or all of the other catch phrases that everyone keeps spouting off.  The core issue is respect.  The moment we allow ourselves to consider someone, ANYONE, as less than a full human being, we are on dangerous ground.  For a soon as we convince ourselves that someone is not “worthy” of something that everyone else is worthy of, we have in our mind committed a crime, and our behavior will inevitably follow.

This is how ethnic cleansing gets justified in the minds of those who perpetrate it.  You may think that statement is a little extreme, but I don’t.  It all starts somewhere.  It just takes baby steps of marginalizing a group, a little bit at a time, and before we know it, we’ve rationalized all sorts of inhumane treatment.

And now I’ll rant for just a little bit about Facebook.  I have a Facebook account, and I check it fairly regularly (although not as often as some people in my life would like me to). In general, I like the idea of being able to keep up with what’s going on in the lives of my friends and family that I don’t get to see as often as I would like.  The problem I have with Facebook is that some people use it as a tool to hurt others, while hiding behind the separation.

Most people wouldn’t say many of the things they post on Facebook directly to someone’s face.  (Some would, but they’re a different topic altogether.)  It’s easier to be rude when you’re not face to face with the person you’re being rude to.  It seems like some people think that being physically removed from the situation gives you permission to be a bully.

So I guess I could quote Craig Ferguson at this point.  Before you decide to run off at the mouth, think about these things:

  1. Does this need to be said?  (Maybe it’s something that shouldn’t be said at all)
  2. Does this need to be said by me?  (Maybe it needs to be said, but I’m not the best person to say it)
  3. Does this need to be said by me right now?  (Maybe I need to say it, but this is not the right time, or I’m not currently in the best frame of mind)

I might add a fourth: Does this need to be said in these words?  You see, I have no problem with sharing your opinion.  It is the timing and the wording that often leave something to be desired.  You can still speak your mind without being deliberately hateful.  Consider whether there is a way to select your words carefully in order to still convey your message without inciting complete verbal warfare.  Because we can never have a constructive dialog on any topic once it breaks down into name-calling.  Come on, people.  This is not the elementary school playground.

Some people even use FB as an opportunity to argue with, shame, or otherwise manipulate their significant others.  This is probably the type of post I find the saddest, because it is a sign of a relationship in dire trouble.  If you can’t resolve your issues between yourselves, getting your friends to take sides on FB is definitely NOT going to help the situation.

It seems like I kind of ended up focusing on gay rights, only because it has been a very recent, very loud source of discord, but this concept really applies to any other topic that we tend to argue about.  If you would like to cultivate your inner beauty, one of the most important characteristics to work on is to learn to respect ALL others, even if they don’t agree with you.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t state your case, or that you’re not free to disagree.  It means that you make a conscious decision to not tear others down with your words just because they don’t believe the same way you believe.

It’s not easy.  Those topics that get us really riled up are the ones that we feel the most strongly about, and we really WANT to lambaste  the person who doesn’t agree.  But consider whether there is a better way to state your case without outright aggression.

What do you think?  I’m not really asking whether you think gay marriages should be recognized (although I suppose you are free to post that as long as it’s civil!)  I’m asking if you think that we have allowed the impersonal aspect of the internet to excuse our verbal attacks on one another.  Do you think that we have gotten significantly less considerate?  Do you think respect for the feelings of others is a thing of the past?  Have you ever posted something in anger and regretted it later?  Do you sometimes (often) wish people would PM each other instead of getting into an argument on their page, for all the world to see?

The Lost Art of Debate: Reviving CIVIL Discourse

This is a subject that has been in the forefront of my mind a lot lately.  I have gone weeks at a time deliberately avoiding facebook and other social media in order to avoid the hatefulness and close-mindedness that seem to permeate the timelines. (I guess those days are over, right?) There are so many hot topics that seem to ignite verbal nuclear warfare: gun control, politicians, abortion, gay rights, religion, and so on, and so on. I recently posted on challenging our minds, in order to keep them sharp into our old age.  One of the far underused ways that I think we can do this is through true debate.

First, let me define what I mean by debate.  It does not necessarily mean an all-out argument.  IF all sides are being presented and respectfully considered by all parties, this is a constructive discourse.  I think that mature adults should be capable of carrying out a civil debate on ANY topic, even those that we feel very strongly about. (Rant warning!) If you are completely and utterly incapable of considering an opposing viewpoint (or unwilling to do so), perhaps you need to reevaluate your emotional maturity.  

Only when we can agree to peacefully disagree, without name calling, derision, or disrespect, can we make progress towards understanding, and at the same time sharpen our minds. Our primary goal should not be to verbally bludgeon someone into agreeing with our point of view, or to loudly pronounce that anyone who does not agree must be too stupid to know better. That is neither productive nor intellectually stimulating.

Why are we so unwilling to accept an opposing viewpoint as valid, even if we continue to disagree with it? Of course, those hot button topics are always the subjects we feel most strongly about; otherwise, why would we care?

But try this the next time you get caught up in one of those discussions: pause, take a deep breath, and regulate your blood pressure. Remember, the person you’re talking to is also a human being, and regardless of how intelligent you suspect they might be, consider that there is probably a reason that they believe the way they do. While you may not be able to bring them around to your point of view, and they may not be able to bring you around to theirs, maybe you could expand your mind by seeing a different side.