There’s been a lot of negative attention in the news these days. Arguably, more than usual. Controversy seems to sell even better than sex, so naturally our culture responds by magnifying anything that has some drama. We’re constantly hearing about shootings in schools and movie theaters, the long list of couples in the spotlight who are calling it quits, or the divisive state of our political candidates. We develop polarized stances on issues that tear us apart like gun control, race and same sex marriage. But we don’t stop there. We dissect far beyond the issue at large. We pick and cut and poke and stab all the way down deep to anything that’s remotely associated with each topic. Even fast food restaurants are tied to an issue (I’m still reading about Chick-fil-A how many years later?)
Even on a more shallow level, it’s become all too common for us to find humor in cynicism. We read articles about the kind of people you hate on Instagram. We follow influencers on social media or reality TV, pick them apart and laugh at them. And yet again, we don’t stop there. We take a snide comment made from one human to another, and then feel empowered to take it to a public audience on the internet via a tweet or a status.
I typically try to refrain from participating in the banter of it all— the complaining, the rolling of the eyes, the Facebook rants, and all the various forms of negativity. I’m often too exhausted or depleted at the end of each day to bother using any remaining energy on weighing in one way or the other. Liking someone's status that I can nod my head “yes” to is about as good as it gets. And if I’m being really honest, I’ve refrained from letting myself think too long about a lot of these topics (which do matter, and which I should care about) simply because of the positions that come with each belief. They make me not even want to go there. Because believing THIS signs you up to be in THAT group of people. You’re slapped across the forehead with a label before you can barely get a sentence out of your mouth. And while I'm not ashamed of claiming anything that I do believe, these complex issues are categorized in a two-dimensional way, leaving us all forced to over-defend or over-explain ourselves. It's exhausting just talking about it.
The thing is, I really do believe that it’s important to know what you believe in, and to stand firmly by that. So that’s what I’m doing here. But this stance isn’t to coax you to take my side on a particular issue, to tell you why your opinion is ignorant, or to validate a belief of mine with some inspirational quote or recent poll that discredits yours. My simple hope for bothering to write this at all is to encourage you— whoever you are and whatever it is you believe so passionately, to do so with more love.
You see, the people we don’t understand, the people who aren’t very nice, the people we disagree with, or the people who believe much differently than we do… they’re not going to go away. If you escape one, you’re sure to find another. And if we let ourselves respond to every offender with an equal response, we’re bound to leave each other angry, resentful, self-righteous and deeply wounded.
I know they can make you mad. I get what it feels like when the emotions bubble up inside you, and you want to scream. How all the common logic you could ever muster seems to shine the brightest floodlight on so much unintelligence or stupidity.
But I have to believe that people are doing the best they can. Sure, we could choose to believe differently— but do you really want to? Call me naively optimistic, but I want to live in a world where people believe that each other are good. A world where me tapping my foot and sighing impatiently at the Post Office is because I’m stressed and overwhelmed, not because I have a mean spirit. That when I feel bad about doing it later, I can believe the people around me assumed I was just having a hard day, and not that I’m a bad person overall. That regardless of how different an opinion may be from yours, it was likely formed because of many complex circumstances (whose roots go down deeper than the eye can see), not just to piss you off.
Maybe you don’t spew hate. Maybe you’re patting yourself on the back right now because none of the aforementioned things has left you feeling guilty. And while guilt is the farthest from my motives here, I do challenge you with this. Could you be loving more?
Saying you’ll do this- love people more and assume they’re doing the best they can, makes you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. It sounds good on a bumper sticker. But it’s important to note that it doesn't come without a cost.
First, it will require you to listen. To actually listen— not just wait for your cue to jump in with a counterpoint. We can only be loved to the extent which we are known, and the same goes vice versa. How can you ever love someone if you’re too busy building a case against them or trying to disprove them?
Second, it will require you to habitually make choices that go against what feels natural. This means biting your tongue. It means letting go and moving on when you know you could probably win the argument. It means doing it again and again and again every time— instead of keeping some distorted “more good than bad” tally in your head.
Lastly, it will require you to be vulnerable. Vulnerability (by definition) is to be susceptible to being wounded or hurt, and open to moral attack or criticism. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt that they’re doing the best they can and loving them means they may take advantage of you. They may call you weak or respond with other insults. They may question your motives, or speak ill of you. But somebody has to lay their weapon down first if peace is ever going to be made.
None of the requirements above are easy, and I’m far from mastering any of them- so hear me when I say that this isn’t any kind of attempt at self-praise. But it’s my hope that we can all do a better job of putting these into practice. Because I believe it’s the only way to make the world more a bearable (dare I say wonderful?) place to live.
My hope isn’t to change any of your opinions. My hope is that regardless of your opinions, I can love you well. No matter what you believe about gun control, the presidential candidates, selfies, breast feeding, SEC football, GMOs or even something as important to me as my faith in Jesus. I want to expand my mind beyond the capacity of my own understanding. To listen to what you have to say. To assume it’s the best you can give. And to love you where you are. And I hope that you’ll find yourself able to do the same. To me, and to others around you.
I know I said I wasn’t here to share an inspirational quote, so I guess this is the part that makes me a liar. But I’m encouraged by the thought that I’m not alone in this hope- that we all prefer a world filled with more kindness, more compassion and more love.
So let’s be mavericks. Let’s lay our weapons down, treat hate with kindness, and tear down walls that have kept us apart. Let's love each other relentlessly. Let's do the very best that we can.