We seem to learn early in life how to blame others for things we have done. It feels good. It shifts the consequences away from us and toward someone else. A young man once visited our home and when my father asked who left the back door open promptly replied, “I didn’t do it.” He fit right in. With four kids, there was always someone around to blame. In fact when the kids left home, my husband and I joked about having fewer places to assign blame.
But as adults, dealing with reality, we stop joking and learn to acknowledge when we have made a mistake. One of the key tenets in 12 step programs is a “fearless moral inventory” of places we have erred. After admitting our wrongs to God and another person, the programs ask us to make amends to those harmed as long as to do so wouldn’t create more problems.
Why “fearless.” I think because we can face up to our shortcomings like adults, not children. Part of maturing, I think, is learning to take responsibility when it is ours to take. At the moment in the public sphere we are watching an explosion of blame. Adults all around seem unwilling to admit any faults of their own. Instead, they search ceaselessly around for the REAL culprit. Not limited to any political point of view, this approach keeps us avoiding dealing with real issues.
Because, at the end of the day, no matter who left the door open, someone needs to close it.
Before I go on to consider rational dialogue and productive discussion, I want to address times when my only response is a deep breath and a brain which resembles the photo above. These would be times when the other person really isn’t interested in your point of view at all. At those times, I have learned to quite quickly have a very compelling reason to walk away!
A prime example came when my husband and I struck up a conversation with a man fixing the parking lot gate at our church. We were on solid ground talking about the mechanics of the gate, his expertise, and the weather, which was lovely. Or so I thought. He began to explain to us that the the lovely trails from the high flying jets were not jet vapor but rather poisonous chemicals, part of a secret conspiracy to ..(I don’t know. My brain was getting scrambled.)
Then, not missing a beat, he started in on the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. These were actually committed by a mentally ill young man armed with a machine gun who entered the school and mercilessly killed 26 children and teachers. This man began to regale us with the “truth” that it was all staged and that he had lots of evidence to back up this “truth.” Since we knew people who knew some of the victims, this sickened me. My logical brain couldn’t fathom why he believed this. Fortunately, my protective self grabbed my husband, said we were late already, and left.
It would not have been helpful to engage this man in a conversation. I grieved that lies on the internet could persuade a gullible reader. But many manipulators, including nations, knew that already.
I am going to explore for a while what civil discourse might mean in this time of such acrimony and division that exists in the United States at the moment. I hope that the discussion will help me engage in the world around me with less fear and more grace.
Geese all squawk at once. I turn to look at the sky sometimes because of the racket which is coming from a group of geese flying over. Maybe they can tell one voice from another, but I can’t. The same phenomenon occurs nightly on talk shows. Notice that they aren’t called “listen” shows or even “listen and talk shows.” Voices interrupt each other, talk over each other, ignore each other, and call it a discussion.
Yesterday a young man from church commented that God had given us two ears and one mouth. He suggested that the proportion of talking and listening was pretty clearly demonstrated on our own heads.
Listening takes time. Listening, pondering before a response and then responding takes even more time. I try to imagine a “talk” show with bits of silence between questions and answers. We act as if the quickest answer is the best, when we know full well that most questions demand thought. Reacting comes quickly; thought takes time. Emotions respond to reactions. Reactions intensify emotions. Soon we are indistinguishable from that flock of geese.
May we consider taking a breath before answering a question. May we consider letting the other person take a breath, too.
“Fasting from polarizing attitudes and feasting on our common call”
This last of my seven feasting and fasting posts features a picture of me kissing my doll who apparently needed some loving. All of these posts have caused me to really explore the idea of fasting. Fasting is meant to feel uncomfortable as we go without something we enjoy. No one talks, for instance, about fasting from getting a root canal! So I have had to acknowledge that I have experienced pleasure from some of the things this series has asked me to give up. In my case, it is especially apathy(#1), words that hurt(#6) and polarizing attitudes(today’s post.)
When I consider what it might mean to feast on our common call, I am challenged by my warped perception which has increased in the last year that we don’t have a common call. But then I see this photo and remember how much I am called to love and not to hate. I am called to take the log out of my own eye before commenting on the sliver in the other’s eye. I am called to include the stranger because I may be entertaining “angels unaware.” These are the common calls on me that come from my faith.
But what of the larger common call that is bigger than my particular faith? While it has specific Jewish roots, I hope that God’s command to “choose life” resonates with everyone. This is not a political statement(however much it has been co-opted by some causes), but rather a directive to turn toward life and away from death. Nasty words, polarizing attitudes, apathy and scorn are all death bringers. May we all direct our lives towards life.
“Fasting from words that hurt and feasting on words that nurture”
Here I am reading to my beloved little sister Patsy who seems to be focusing elsewhere! At least we are snuggled up next to each other and all encased in flannel.
My father used to say “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. Perhaps in the 50’s we only recognized physical abuse, but today we know about emotional abuse, usually verbal. Words certainly do damage, although it may be less visible than bruises on the surface.
We all know how just hearing “there, there” can soothe our pain. We know how wonderful it feels when someone learns our name and uses it with affection. We even use special words for those closest to us signifying their place in our heart. But just as real is the pain when someone spits out our name in anger or calls us a demeaning word, “lying” or “little” or even “deplorable.”
May we pay attention to what we say. May we recognize the ways words are hurting our country and bringing division. May we find it in ourselves to use our words to heal and not to damage.
“Fasting from singularity and feasting on interrelatedness”
When I (front row, second from left) went to kindergarten, I had a chance to meet other little girls. I had been the single girl in my neighborhood gang of boys.While they were great friends, they weren’t particularly interested in dresses, hair dos and playing house.. So kindergarten gave me my first chance to play dress up and dolls. Fortunately, in those days, kindergarten was purely about socialization and not at all about academics.
My class was very economically diverse. Joyce, the little girl seated to my right lived in a house with tar paper siding. Some kids came to school in very old clothing. Two years later, my parents bought a house in an affluent suburb full of identically privileged kids. I was not to meet such a diverse set of people again until I left home.
I loved kindergarten because it exposed me to all sorts of kids. I disliked the conformity pressed on me at my next school. As an adult, I chose to live in an economically and ethnically diverse neighborhood. I go to a church which serves homeless people and women in fur coats.
May we extract ourselves from our “selfies” culture long enough to realize we are not much alone. May we thrive on our commonality with others who appear to be quite different from ourselves. May we be as excited to meet new people as I was to find out that there were other girls!
“Fasting from isolation and feasting on interdependence”
It’s a hot summer day and my little brother is confined to a play pen so my mother doesn’t have keep an eye on him while she is in the house. Play pens were common in the 1950’s, so this was normal. Still my brother is unable to get his own drink. He is isolated, in a sense, behind wooden bars. I am older, free to run around, and able to pour my own Kool-Aid. Somehow I recognized his thirst and went over and shared the strawberry drink.
While we may often think about how to end our own isolation and connect with others, this photo reminds us to see those around us who are isolated. Many are behind bars, either literally in jail or figuratively being caught up in pain and distress. In that case, the isolated ones can’t reach out to us. We have to be the initiators of connection and demonstrate the value of interdependence.
May we be aware of those around us who are isolated by their circumstances and offer them at least a “cup of cold water.” Connection accompanies the water and is, after all, the more important part of the gesture.
“Fasting from shame and feasting on goodness”
At four I was a confident little girl, happy to show off my birthday umbrella and pose in my party dress. I was surrounded by my friends in the neighborhood and played freely across several back yards.
Shame sets in for all of us, I think, for various reasons at various times. Shame tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong about who we are. Shame also encourages us to send our shame out to shame others. We subconsciously want them to feel as bad about themselves as we feel about ourselves. So we reinforce each other’s shame about body size, income, gender, physical characteristics, intelligence, decisions, partners, children, houses and jobs. Most of us have a little insecurity about at least one of these things, and shame is ready to cling onto it and whisper that we really are not all right.
Shame thrives in the dark as we compare ourselves(always unfavorably)to others. The good news is that it evaporates in the light. Twelve step groups know that sharing secrets kills shame. So do simple actions such as saying “This is hard for me. Can you help?””I struggle with my kids.” “My real life is nothing like Facebook.”
May we come out from the shadows of shame and let our goodness shine. I was able to do that at four, after all.
“Fasting from conformity and feasting on diversity.”
Thanksgiving Day in November is a chance for my family to embrace its differences and eat together in peace. We have broccoli and rice for the Alabama native. I prefer the English mashed potatoes and green peas. The gravy includes giblets which gross out my grandchildren. Half of the family is vegetarian, which accounts for the Dutch oven with a roasted Tofurky. The other half likes Butterball turkey with its injected salt. Cranberries are whole berry, having won over the one who likes cranberry sauce out of a can complete with the ridges from the can.
One of my favorite exercises when I taught English at the community college was asking students to tell me what they absolutely HAD to have to make it Thanksgiving. What dish would be immediately be missed by their grandmother? The whiteboard filled with an astonishing array of foods from ham, to goat, to turkey, to pulled pork, to fish. The starches were from all over the world. My students were amazed by how some foods they disliked were very important to some of their classmates.
What they all agreed on was that having those particular foods eaten with people they loved made it a feast. None of them felt compelled to change their dinner plans after hearing about other choices. Nor did they belittle one another as they realized that they each had deep emotional connections to very different foods.
May we look around at our neighbors and in our community and be equally grateful for the many ways human beings express their unique identities. May we stop and realize how blessed we are to have this bounty of difference.
One of our Friars, Fr. Tom Gallagher O.F.M, has challenged our congregation with a series of seven fasting and feasting suggestions for Lent. None of them involve food, cell phone use or Facebook. Each day for the next week, I will highlight one of these and share my thoughts about how I am responding to the challenge. I especially like that these are all applicable to all people, not just Catholics, since I know that a majority of my followers aren’t Christian.
“Fasting from apathy and feasting on engagement”
I treasure the curiosity I exhibit here as a friend of my grandfather’s introduces me to a baby porcupine he has rescued and is hand feeding. While I am naturally cautious, I am responding to the invitation to approach and engage. There are many prickly issues right now, and I am surrounded by them in the U.S. I certainly recognize my desire to ignore the turmoil. Sometimes I even surrender to the apathetic stance of “what can I do, anyway?”
I am encouraged instead to engage with the cultural dialogue. I can risk offending gun advocates, for instance, by sharing my views on the accessibility of guns here. I can assert that there is such a thing as truth when some tell me everything is relative. I don’t have to do any of this with the motive of changing anyone’s mind. I just need to engage.
May I have the courage I had as a little girl when approaching today’s “porcupines,”