Non-Partisan Encouragement

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First, I’m not claiming to be non-partisan. I’m writing an encouragement that will be.

We’re living in a very difficult and strange time. We’re having public debates I never imagined and, as one who has seen more than my share of post-apocalyptic movies, this is not what I pictured. At all. My training to fend off zombies feels a little wasted at the moment.

Now here is my encouragement:

It is not your job to convince people that they’re wrong. If you take that as your job, you are signing up for frustration and a lot of alienation. I suspect all of us slip up and find ourselves wearing that name tag occasionally,

“Hi, My Name Is Mike! I’m Here to Correct You!”

I do sometimes. Then I get discouraged.

The sooner I remember “Wait! I’m doing it again!” the better off I am. The longer I let myself try to succeed at this job that I neither have nor want, the worse I will feel.

Not everyone is like me. (Go ahead, rejoice.) Some people really believe this is their job and go around correcting everyone and telling them how wrong they are. We call these people “trolls.” Trolls, sad to say for them, don’t get to decide whether or not they are trolls. Trolling is in the eye of the beholder.

I’m assuming, for this discussion, that you and I aren’t consciously trying to troll anyone.

I might be someone’s troll. I sincerely hope not. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone sees me that way, however, because I do express my opinions often–and am doing so herein, as you read this.

This is my non-partisan encouragement: We are here to love one another, as best we can manage. Yes, if I see someone whom I think is dead wrong, let’s say driving the wrong way on a busy one-way street and about to hit traffic, meaning about to hit someone, I would really like to convince that person to turn around and I’m pretty clear I’m right and they’re wrong and, if only they could see I’m right, they would both correct course and thank me. Or, I mean they might flip me off because they’re angry and embarrassed, but sparing them and the faultless driver going the correct direction from collision, injury, and possible death would make that little getting flipped off worthwhile.

Here’s the thing: when we argue these days, we’re all convinced that our debate opponents are driving headlong into traffic–and wildly over the speed limit, to boot. These conditions tempt me to jettison my typical guidelines for discussion: The cost is too high for me just to stand by while you crash, right? Lives are at stake, and not just yours!

Oh, look. I’m wearing the badge again.

“Hi, My Name Is Mike! I’m Here to Correct you!”

But I’m not. I’m not here to correct you. I’m here to love you.

Here’s where this gets tricky…if we let it.

I have to ask two questions: 1)What constitutes an emergency? and 2)What are the chances you or I will agree that one of us is wrong?

I want to say that almost all of us who have strong opinions right now consider this an emergency. Pandemic. Sounds like an emergency, doesn’t it?

In response to question number two, after extensive personal research, I will propose this estimate: approximately zero.

That might strike you as a bummer. I could delve deeply into the psychology involved here, but I suspect that would either sidetrack us, edge us toward partisanship, or both.

But this helps me understand better what is happening and why we’re (mostly) all behaving this way:

All of us seem to think that the people with whom we disagree are racing toward an imminent, life-threatening head-on.

And we might be right.

But my experience, hard-earned from working with people trapped in addiction, is that even if it’s true, they might not change.

“You’re hurting yourself.” True.

“You’re hurting me and others.” True.

Still no change.

I know that seems discouraging. Believe me, when watching someone you love self-destruct, it’s gut-wrenching.

But I think it applies to our current situation and I think it can be oddly freeing.

If I can accept that nothing I do can change your thinking, then I can get on with the work of loving you, as best I can. I remember that even when I’m being my most self-destructive, I’m never, ever helped by my “friend” screaming at and belittling me. It also clicks in the cobwebby corners of my brain what has gotten through to me before, when I’ve hit bottom.

Grace.

Grace gets through to me. Kindness. Unwavering, patient, accepting friendship.

Weird, right? Being loved by my friends the way Jesus did and taught has cracked through my shell of self-damaging wrong thinking* when nothing else could.

Here, then, is my non-partisan encouragement for you today:

If you think a bunch of people in your life are wrong, don’t scream at them. They won’t believe they’re driving the wrong way. It’s not your job to correct them and get them to think right, the way you do. It is your job to love them, with grace, with encouragement, with forgiveness and gentleness and humor.

That might, it just might, help them see things differently. It might not. But love is never wasted. Love always changes us and those around us; Jesus is always present when we love one another, even when we can’t see it.

Practically speaking, I’m saying quit screaming. It’s not helping. Express what you need to, pray with all your might, speak your truth. Expressing our opinion is not the same as forcing someone to change their mind. Vent to your friends who agree with you but do not attack your friends–or, for heaven’s sake, strangers–who don’t. Say what you think will help. But take off that work badge and leave it off. I’m putting this one on.

“Hi, My Name Is Mike! I’m Not Here to Correct You! I’m Here to Love You.”

PS You might find that you stop screaming at them and they keep screaming at you. Jesus says something about that, too. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” is different than “Do to others as they do to you.” In fact, it’s often opposite. I’d add that loving people does not require allowing them to scream at you.

PPS When, not if, I fail at this and fall back into trying to correct people’s thinking, God will have grace for that, too. No soy Dios, Dios es Dios, gracias a Dios.

*And all my students know the synonym for “self-damaging wrong thinking” is…

6 thoughts on “Non-Partisan Encouragement

  1. I would that we would all wear that second badge whenever we are around others. Maybe not a tangible badge but an “attitude badge” that communicates the same thing. We might find that others are attracted to us more, and maybe some non-believers in Christ that we can introduce Him to. I’m riding along right with you Mike!

  2. Jim Allyn

    So, when people like Donald Trump swear that the virus is nothing to worry about, that there’s no need to lock down, and that everything is just peachy, we shouldn’t correct them with the facts? Did you know that in the US, where Trump spread all that misinformation without being corrected, there have been 55 thousand covid-19 deaths, yet in China, where the government took the virus seriously, made accurate information readily available to all, and took the steps that the science said was necessary (lockdown), there have been only 4,633 deaths? Had somebody taken the effort to correct Trump, to convince him that he is wrong, we would have had tens of thousands fewer covid-19 deaths, yet you think we shouldn’t correct people that are wrong? I STRONGLY disagree. When Trump tells us that climate change is a hoax, and there’s no need to do anything about it, and implements an energy policy that will result in the suffering and deaths of billions of God’s children (and many of his other creatures) do you feel it is unnecessary to correct him and save the lives of billions of people? We are here to love our neighbors, and sometimes loving our neighbors consists of convincing people that they are wrong. You do what you think is right, and I will do what I think is right. Or as a pastor once said to me some 20 years ago, “you go your way, and I’ll go God’s way.”

    • Jim, if you know a way to make people who are wrong see that they are wrong and change their minds, please tell me. I’ve seen you try to convince people and I’ve seen me try to convince people. They remain unconvinced.
      Frankly, I think we have to make these changes like completely altering our energy consumption and working to avert the calamities coming with climate change without being able to convince Trump (who is not changing his mind). I’m still working toward that and I know you are, too. I have prayed for God to open his eyes throughout his presidency and I will continue to do so. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter, I’m saying it’s not happening. I’m working toward the changes you and I both have for many years agreed must happen. “Had someone taken the effort to correct Trump.” I think many tried and many have failed, been fired, removed from their positions, and otherwise silenced. Again, if I’m missing something, help me to see it. I’m NOT saying to be silent. I know you saw that. I’m making that very clear. I’m not stopping speaking the truth that I believe people need to hear. I’m still trying.
      I’m accepting that people who will not be convinced will not be convinced by my getting in their face more and I’m seeking to treat them with grace. I think there is a better chance they might see light this way. I’m going to spend more energy on helping those who are willing to see. That’s my decision.

      • Jim Allyn

        Unfortunately, I do not know how to make people who are wrong see that they are wrong. But that doesn’t relieve me of my obligation to try. I have read and been told that presenting the facts to people doesn’t work, that you have to appeal to their emotions. That notion is utterly foreign and incomprehensible to me. My brain wants the facts, the science, and it is beyond me how any body could be any different than that. So, I will continue telling people the facts. That’ all I can do.

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