Would you rather be a source of Burning or a source of Light in the World?
I have noticed, especially in the last couple of years (actually for longer than that, but it seems to have intensified since 2015), that the increasing political and social polarization in the United States, and the world in general, has produced a great deal of passionate heat, but very little light of reason. We see it in political ads, tweets, Congressional debates, demonstrations on the streets, Facebook posts, news commentary, etc., ad nauseum. And please note that I have NOT identified any political party, politician, commentator, or anyone else like that. The reason is, no ONE person nor group is responsible for it all. From what I have seen, in most cases members of both sides of such socio-religio-political tussles have contributed to the conflagration.
Let me give full disclosure here: I will admit that I have a hard time staying out of political and/or social debates where I have a strong opinion. It’s a part of my nature, I’m afraid, and I really, REALLY have to work at not jumping into the ring with a bag of facts, statistics, quotes, opinions, and sometimes even scriptural references, in order to knock the stuffing out of someone who (I believe) is twisting and corrupting the zeitgeist we now inhabit.
I have this problem in SPITE of the fact that I believe… I know… that adding more conflict to the mix will not help things. My logical, well-reasoned, and evidence-supported refutation of someone’s opinion has about a 0.0002% chance of changing the mind of that person. If I wanted to be snarky, I’d say something like, “Hey, if logic, facts, and reason were something that this person would accept, they wouldn’t have that opinion anyway!”
However… I do try, and I intend to make a more concentrated effort, to stop throwing fuel on the fire.
In the back of my mind, however, there is always that famous (and famously misattributed) quote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.” It gnaws at the edges of my good intentions, muttering all the time, “Are we going to let this garbage go unchallenged? If they get the last word in, they will think they are correct!” And honestly, that may happen. An unchallenged assertion, no matter how foolish, may cause the person who makes it to believe they have won their case.
But, if I *do* challenge the assertion, no matter how rational and intelligent my response may be, will I then change the mind of the other person? Do I, as some random person on the Internet or at a social gathering, carry enough weight of authority to cause the other to gasp in astonishment, tear their clothes, pour ashes on their head, and fall to the ground crying, “Oh my gosh… I was wrong, wrong, WRONG!”
I doubt it. More likely, they will crow something like, “That’s YOUR opinion!” or “Fake news!” or “I expected something like that from you ____________ [whatever label they want to apply]!” I have even been threatened with physical violence for citing an unpopular FACT (not opinion).
So. Lately, I have been trying to answer that gnawing quote (see above) with reason and compassion. Let me know what you think.
If I toss more fuel onto the fire, no matter that my fuel may be of better quality and have more substance, will that quench the fire? No. It will not.
The quote above says, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.” My reasoning says this: “Doing something is not helpful, if the something you do is the WRONG something. Instead, I will try to do the RIGHT something.”
So, instead of pouring kerosene on the fire, I will do one of two things. One, do what you can to quench the flames, while offering your own light. How? By showing love, respect, and compassion for the other person. There must be some fear and ignorance causing the other individual to act irrationally. Have you ever seen the actions of a dog that feels threatened when you are about to take away his food, even if that food is dry and unappealing? They will snarl, growl, perhaps lunge or snap at you… because they are convinced that their food is necessary, and it is the only food they have. How about this? Offer that same dog a cheeseburger instead of the dry kibble. Then you should be able to remove the old food. It may take two or three… or five or six… times of tossing the dog the burger, but eventually the dog realizes that you aren’t trying to take something good away from it, but rather trying to give it something better.
That means, I treat the other person with respect rather than denigrating them or calling them names. That means I will listen to their statements respectfully, and then respectfully offer my own. It means recognizing that, if they are making irrational statements, they must have a reason: fear, ignorance, being fed lies by someone they feel is authoritative, or some other reason. Most of us are not inherently irrational, but sometimes fear or anger can make us that way. And it also means admitting, even grudgingly, that they may have valid points.
Of course, the other person may wish to have no part of this. They may be so eaten up by their own cancer of ignorance, hate, bigotry, or fear that they can’t abide letting those things go. Sometimes, even the things that harm us become dear to us because they are familiar. Or, you simply may be mentally/emotionally tired of the debating, and decide it is useless.
In cases like this, where I offer reason, love, and compassion to the other person, and repeatedly get snarls and snaps in return, option two comes into play: I walk away.
If I have made an honest effort to be rational with someone… if they refuse my compassionate acceptance that they have a right to their own opinion… if facts and evidence are not making any headway… then I can’t waste my time and personal energy on trying to persuade them. As one of my relatives used to say, “Never waste your time arguing with a fool. It’s like wrestling a pig in a pigsty—you both end up filthy, and the pig enjoys it.” Besides, to engage in such fights is bad for your spiritual health as well as your mental health. It adds feelings of anger and resentment to your emotional burden.
And those are the things I intend to do. Not attack. Not throw stones. Rather, offer compassionate listening and acceptance, and if that is rejected outright, walk away. Some people will never be convinced that they might be wrong, and it’s a waste of time and energy to try. Doing these things is not weak, nor is it surrendering. It is conserving your own mental and emotional energy for fights you CAN win. To return to the analogy given in the opening paragraph of this post, I believe I can create and spread much more light this way, rather than adding to the inferno of heated passions.
Pray for me, my friends. It’s going to be a long, hard row to hoe!
Anthony Burton, PhD, is the owner of Hillside Holistic Health, in Calhoun GA, where he does his best to help people achieve maximum health with complementary holistic therapies such as Reiki, EFT (tapping) and meditation.