Hey, can we talk?
I was going to title this post, “Towards A More Civil Discourse.” But I wanted people to actually READ it! So...”Hey, can we talk?!”
Have you ever read, or better yet, seen Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare? One of the most famous speeches from that play is Mark Anthony’s eulogy for the murdered Caesar. It begins, “Friends, Romans, countryman! Lend me your ears!” I’m sure you’ve heard that line. In sarcasm, Caesar’s eulogizer, Mark Anthony, goes on to say that what Brutus says about Caesar--that he was ambitious--must be true because he, Brutus is such an “honorable man.” But then Mark Anthony gives example after example of Caesar’s heroism, compassion and patriotism, all things Mark Anthony knows personally about his friend and ally Julius Caesar. From this we see that Brutus has discredited his political opponent in order to justify maligning and eventually assassinating him. It makes it so much easier to get the crowd on your side if you can convince them this guy is a monster.
Friends! Americans! Countryman! Lend me your ears! Please let’s stop demonizing our political and cultural opponents. Let me explain what I mean by demonizing. A demon is a purely evil monster. Not human, not like us. Certainly not worthy of love or respect. They must be defeated, brought down, destroyed. They are all bad, all the time.
So when we demonize our opponents we assume the very worst about them. We make them out to be haters, killers, liars and thieves. But guess what? The other side makes YOU out to be haters, killers, liars and thieves. And you know you are not. You know that your motives are just and true, pure and right. You know that you have love in your heart and that you can be kind and generous. You know that you’re a great Dad, a really good mom, a loving son or daughter. You want what’s best for your family, your neighbors, your country... the world. This is who you are.
Well, what if they know all the same things? What if their motives are just and true, pure and right? What if they are kind and generous and lovin-- No! That can’t be.
But what if it is? What if we could all go through a switch-a-roo like the characters in the movies Freaky Friday, Vice Versa and Big? But instead of parents to sons and daughters or children to adults, our transformation would be into our political or cultural opposite. If we’re rich it would be poor. If we’re black it would be white. If we’re Christian, it would be Muslim. And here’s the kicker, if we hate Trump we would now love Trump!! We would become them and they would become us. In this scenario we would live their life for awhile. We would experience their trials. We would inherit their family and background. We would do their work, play their games, worship their God, eat their food, sing their songs.
What do you think this would do to us? I think we would see that they are not the monsters we have made them out to be. They are more like us than we want to admit. They are children of God, wonderfully and marvelously made. They have faults and foibles, failures and fissures but, just as we do with our own faults, we would have a kind perspective that excuses and minimizes most of them. We would love the “other” like we love ourselves because we would be them.
Here’s the thing, love assumes the best about another person. When you fall in love with someone you assume they are kind, loving, gentle, patient, beautiful, worthy, humble, and more. Scott Peck, in A Road Less Traveled, describes what happens. When we fall in love our ego boundaries get stretchy as we envelope each other. “You like pie? I love pie.” You wanna go dancing? I love to dance.” As the relationship develops our ego boundaries begin to snap back into place. “No, I don’t want to dance. I never dance at weddings” “You ordered pie for me? I wanted ice cream.” This is a slap in the face as we realize that this “perfect” person is not us; they are the “other.”
But true love from the heart transcends these ego boundaries and with eyes wide open, the relationship matures until we love the “other” like we love ourselves. Love is selfless, sacrificial even. Love gives way, gives up rights, gives up life. Love shows deference and respect. Love dignifies. Love champions. Love supports.
Love is patient. Love is kind. It isn’t jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. (Wait...What?) Love is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever. (That’s not mine; it's Rabbi Paul)
So how about this for a challenge (since I don’t think we’ll be having the magical transformation into somebody else any time soon) how about the next time we confront an opponent, especially political, we try a little tenderness. We look them in the eye, take a really deep breath and... LISTEN. Ask questions and listen. Then stand back and watch the magical transformation of our society begin.