“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.” – Dorothy Day
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13
Earlier this week I shared a post featuring the hydrangea blooming here in our Wake Forest garden – “watering and preaching”. It’s hard to watch such beautiful plants wilt under the oppressive heat and constant sunshine. But they recovered quickly with Friday night’s brief rain so Rebekah cut a handful to take next door for my parents to enjoy.
It’s a simple equation: nourishment, water, light, air. If they have all that the plants thrive; if not, they wilt and die.
When people fail to thrive:
It’s not quite that simple with people. Oh, I wrote about “Living Water” and all that earlier this week, but the human condition has the added complexity of living in community – or not. And far too many people are becoming isolated and dangerous because the most essential element of what it means to be spiritually alive has somehow been turned off or broken altogether.
Look at these shootings. Another mass killing event in Virginia just this weekend. How is it that our culture manages to produce so many people who lose the essential ability to experience empathy (the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference – the capacity to place oneself in another’s position)?
I believe this move away from empathy flows naturally from the binary system of communication that dominates the way we (fail to) relate to other people. All zeros or ones.
- Everything has to be judged as right or wrong,
- There’s no in-between, just “like” or “dislike,”
- It’s all “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down,”
- Chose “true” or “false,”
- “Agree” or “disagree,”
- Arguments – even opinions – are won or lost – no ties allowed,
- There is victory or there is defeat,
- The “nuclear option” is the only option, where a simple majority takes all the marbles,
- Either you are in or you are out,
- We’re all left or right, conservative or liberal, agree with me… or you hate America.
“No Compromise” is (literally) a no-brainer:
There is essentially no room in social discourse anymore for gray areas, for compromise, for “agree to disagree” or for reaching across the aisle.
Compromise has been redefined as a dirty word. “No compromise!” is touted as a cry of pride or conviction when in truth it is an arrogant, ignorant impediment to wisdom and progress; because (and I’m sorry to be the one to break this to the rest of the world) absolutely nobody is right all the time and about the same number of people are exclusively wrong.
But that is not the message that has come to saturate social discourse, political discourse, religious discourse.
Lack of empathy is absolutely deadly:
I believe I am honing in on something disturbingly true when I say that such a climate of uncompromising, binary, diatribe-based communication builds and builds in people like so much mercury accumulating in the food chain until it is toxic enough to kill. It will poison any possibility of empathy and then… and then my “I’m right, you’re wrong” friends, you/we have created one more person who is incapable of understanding or feeling what another human being is experiencing and so it becomes nothing to kill them too.
The epidemic-level proliferation of mass shootings in the USA is – I believe – directly linked to the cumulative lack of empathy practiced a million times a day and in a million different ways by tens of millions of people.
It adds up, you’d better believe it.
Our task, then, is to interrupt this cumulative dehumanization via the deliberate practice of kindness, and understanding, and compassion, and listening, and open-spirited communication, and Christ-like love.
We have to saturate the country with this kind of outpouring. We have to spread the good news. We have to practice radical love – DEREK