"Whenever we want to combat our enemies, first and foremost we must start by understanding them rather than exaggerating their motives."
— Criss Jami, Killosophy
Why do we feel the need to turn people we disagree with into a cardboard cutout, and their arguments into a straw man?
This past week I bought the kindle edition of Rachel Held Evans' book "Searching for Sunday." It's a wonderful book, full of grace and truth. Through the process of reading it, the desire for all humans to love each other and be gracious towards one another was rekindled within me. This desire, coupled with recently re-joining the Twittersphere, has produced a discontentment towards the way I see people treating each other. We seem to have this underlying belief that if we recognize a person as a whole, complex human being, it diminishes the awful actions we're trying to call out in them. But people are complex. Reducing them to less than that is insincere and unhelpful. My goal for us as the human race is to both call out evil and injustice, and at the same time recognize a person as the intricate human they are.
Our western culture is extremely polarized right now. We must be either conservative or progressive; republican or democrat; good or evil. If we choose a side, half the world stands with us; if we don't, the whole world stands against us. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus did. He didn't choose a side, and he was killed for it. Jesus ate with both Pharisees and tax collectors. He interacted with both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus stood in the middle. By doing so, he disappointed both the zealots and the religious leaders. Growing up, I used to think that this hate and prejudice only existed on the conservative side. Yet, now that I've entered more progressive circles, I've seen the same hate there as well (just directed at different groups of people).
Let's take Trump for example. He's so easy to hate on. He basically sets himself up for it. Do I believe that a man who has been accused of sexual assault many times over is fit to be President of the United States (not to mention many of the other reckless things he has said and done)? No. In fact, I'd be pretty hard-pressed to agree with Trump on anything. Nonetheless, we must stop reducing him and his humanity. We must stop the hate and name-calling. We must stop using hateful language to call out evil and injustice. And while we're at it, let's stop making all of Trump's followers into crazy people. Just because Kanye loves Trump doesn't mean he is now a lunatic, and it doesn't mean he agrees with everything Trump says or does. Do I agree with Kanye's stance? No. But that doesn't mean I need to demonize him. It's so easy for us humans to reduce and hate on other humans, but my aim is to fight against this impulse. I believe we can do better.
Don’t get me wrong. Anger isn’t a bad emotion. It’s good to be angry and stand up against injustice. It's good to fight for what’s right and true. But if we constantly stay in a state of anger—if we don’t take a step back and look at the larger picture—that anger will consume us. That anger will become our identity. And eventually, we’ll no longer remember how to be gracious to those who make us angry. We’ll reduce people to one aspect of their humanity. As George MacDonald says, “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” So let’s be the kind of people that are easy to please. Let’s rejoice in the smallest glimmer of good in those around us. Let’s celebrate when people take even the tiniest of steps in the right direction. But let’s also be a people that are hard to satisfy. Let’s encourage those around us to continue on in their pursuit of good. Let’s speak truth with love to keep pushing people out of their comfort zones. And most importantly let’s listen to each other. Let's drop all of our preconceived notions of "the other" and actually listen. Listen to understand. Listen without making a snide comment back. Because that is love.
Let's replace hate with love.