Who Can I Blame for the Mess We’re In?
Conflict on individual, interpersonal, and larger societal levels seems to be a common experience of humans around the world. As the world has gotten smaller and contact made between members of industrialized societies and hunter-gatherers in ever more isolated jungle settings, it has become increasingly clear that any sort of Eden in which everyone lives in harmony with each other, with nature, and with God simply is not to be found on planet Earth.
In the industrialized world, the airwaves are filled with voices of broadcasters and their guests “cussing and discussing” the issues of the day. How big should government be? What is the proper role of (women, men, government, church – insert noun here)? Who is responsible for the economic (crash, success, recovery – again, insert noun here)? How much wealth should one person have? Should wealth be redistributed? How should that be done? Who has a right to private property, health care, life, liberty, …? Why do some children not do well in school? Why are some neighborhoods more dangerous than others? Who should raise our children? If people can’t work, should we make sure they get to eat and have a roof over their heads?
On social media sites, coffee shops, school parking lots, family dinner tables, etc., the conversation rages on. “Did you hear about the person who did …..? Isn’t it awful? … There ought to be a law!” “I’ve always said that if we allow … we’ll all end up in the gutter.”
Half-truths, statements taken out of context, down-right lies repeated until they take on an aura of truth, and even honest misconceptions get tossed into a pot with legitimate differences of opinion, cultural interpretations, and contrasting visions of an ideal society to create a smelly stew of controversy that poisons civil conversation. Everyone begins to speak loudly and with great conviction about what is RIGHT, without really stopping to listen deeply to what their opponent is trying to convey – the deeper concerns and fears that underlie seemingly simplistic notions of what might be needed to create a livable society for all of us.
During these middle of Lent days, let’s just stop for a moment and look at our interactions with others. Are we behaving like children on a playground? “He got more turns with the ball than I did.” “She got to start jumping first last time.” “I don’t like the way he looked at me.” “Mary told Kate that I don’t like Jane and Kate told Jane. But that’s not true. Now Jane is mad at me and I just don’t think it’s fair!”
One fundamental key to creating and sustaining conflict is to divide individuals into groups of Us and Them. Classic examples are seen in wartime propaganda. Names used for the enemy are shortened to pejorative forms. Ethnic stereotypes are invoked to arouse fears of atrocities that will befall Us if They are victorious. Classic war movies from the World War II era provide abundant examples of this phenomenon. Unfortunately, this tactic is not limited to wartime. It is all too commonly used in politics and our social conversation, generating lots of heat and not much light in the process.
Perhaps we could fast for a few days from this diet of conflict and controversy that poisons our interaction with each other around the world. Let’s take some time to listen deeply to the concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams of people whose approach we find contrary to our own. Listen to their stories respectfully. Don’t make fun of them or call them names. Give them credit for being God’s children too and genuinely concerned about what is right and what is wrong. We may not end up agreeing with each other on national policy or religious interpretations, but at least let us respect each other as sisters and brothers — fellow humans who have also struggled with the difficult issues of our times. Then maybe, just maybe, we will become bearers of Christ’s Peace to our world, leading by example in the unveiling of God’s Kingdom in the here and now.
Image by Petr Kratochvil – Public domain