When the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up by asking him the following question,
“Teacher, what is the most important command in the Law of Moses?” to which Christ replied, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” ~ Mat 22:36-39
I can only imagine how frustrated they were at the response.
The Pharisees saw themselves as “above” others — more educated, more spiritual, definitely more correct in their understanding of how the world works and what is right and wrong — more importantly WHO was right and wrong. Without a doubt, there were sides.
We’re not so different today. We struggle with similar beliefs about our neighbors today. And it’s just as dangerous.
Fear keeps us separated.
Where politics and social justice issues abound, many of us have drawn a line in the sand. And it’s worse than simply not agreeing with each other — what I’m seeing is that we’re not even willing to converse with one another to learn from each other what and why our neighbor thinks differently than we do.
There appears to be a real fear of having these conversations. As if simply talking about our differences means there will be a winner and a loser in the mix. One side triumphant, the other demolished. There’s real fear emerging and it’s separating us as a people, and I for one feel saddened by this trend.
I would almost settle for the old adage, “Let’s agree to disagree.” A phrase used when the conversations get to real and the parties would, for the sake of the relationship, rather stay silent and keep the peace than move forward into deeper levels of understanding. To reach those levels and to stay kind, both people at the table need to have compassion and empathy for one another.
The great divide.
What I have observed in the last few years is a great divide.
People getting so worked up about their position, about being right, that they have begun to demonize the “other side”.
In politics, it’s liberals and conservatives speaking in derogatory remarks about the other platform and their followers.
For those who don’t follow or believe in religion, it’s a belittling of others’ beliefs — calling Believers brainwashed or ignorant or Lemmings. By the same token, Believers looks with sorrow upon their non-believing friends as if there is a deficit in them that is fixable.
This language, this way of thinking divides us. It becomes “us” vs. “them” and it’s hurtful. But worse than that, it becomes dehumanizing.
Brene Brown quotes Michelle Maiese in her book, “Braving the Wilderness,” on this topic.
Maiese shared that dehumanization is a process of demonizing the enemy; “making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.”
Once we see people on the opposite side of our beliefs as inferior, it becomes easier to believe that we are right in our actions — even when those actions cause harm to those on the other side — be it emotional, and sometimes even physical harm.
Seeing this behavior in action over the last few years has weighed heavily on my spirit.
Watching people spew ugly words at those across the protest lines (on both sides), seeing the hurt and pain, and in some cases, death for those who are simply different – different in their beliefs or simply their skin color, has devastated my heart.
Once upon a time…
I remember being a young girl. I grew up in the suburbs of a major city and there were definitely differences of opinions. I remembering overhearing a conversation in our basement one night between my parents and their friends. They differed in their political beliefs. On occasion, the conversation became heated. But there was no hatred shown.
Everyone seemed to voice their beliefs, their opinions without fear of retribution. No one’s mind was changed over that card table, but I think everyone had a better understanding of each other’s motives, their reasons why they believed what they believed. And the next week, everyone came together again for another game of cards.
Empathy and Compassion.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Empathy is not rolling over on what you believe and hold to be true for you. It is simply being interested enough in another person that we are willing to hear their perspective and see things from their vantage point for a time so we have a better understanding of why they think and feel the way they do.
Compassion is the concern for the sufferings or misfortune of others.
Compassion is love towards our fellow human beings. It allows us to live with each other — even when we don’t agree on important things.
There’s so much hurt and anger out there today.
In order to begin healing, we need to get back to basics; to love one another — to live with compassion and show empathy to our neighbors.
We need to get back to real conversations. And not just listening to another’s point of view to make a swift and sharp response, or even to sway them to our “side”. We legitimately need to listen to each other to have a deeper understanding of how we came to what we believe in the first place, and we need to stop being afraid of what we will learn.
It’s okay to believe differently than someone you love, or like, or live next to. It’s not okay to hate.
Where do we begin?
Here are some ideas to get the conversation started:
- When someone says something you don’t agree with, ask them to share more of what they feel; and then really listen. You may be surprised at how they arrived at what they believe.
- Ask powerful questions such as, “How does what’s happening make you feel?” or “What makes this challenging for you?” or “How would you like things to be different?” Asking powerful questions shows that you are really ready to listen.
Remember, we’re not really listening when:
- When we are thinking of a quick comeback to what the other person is saying.
- When we fail to acknowledge the other person’s feelings.
- When we suggest they shouldn’t feel the way they do.
- When we let anger get the better of us and we react harshly.
When we show another person compassion and empathy by really listening to what they are saying, the situation often gets diffused. With the situation calmed, an authentic conversation can take place where both parties have the opportunity to share what they think, feel, and believe. In the end, you may both walk away still believing what you did at the outset, but you’ll also have a better understanding of the other’s point of view — and you’ll both feel heard.
I, for one, am going to strive to hold tight to Christ’s simple command and work on loving my neighbors better today than I did yesterday and better tomorrow than I did today. Taking just one day at a time…