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.
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…