I’m probably not the right person to be responding to the Human and Social Condition of not just our American Community but of our Global one. From the most powerful of leaders to the meekest of citizens, from our head to our feet, the wounds that we have inflicted on one another, whether purposefully or inadvertently, are infected with hate, jealousy, and fear.
We have all been guilty of harboring prejudice, stereotyping and discriminating others, and even hating them to some degree because of their differences. (Yes…me too.) Regardless of our skin color, age, religious belief, political party, sexual identity, credit score, education level, or occupation, we’re guilty. We may not publicly chant racial slurs or display symbols of prejudice, but what have we whispered behind closed doors or reflected on in our hearts?
We want things to be different so we look to change those around us, resulting in criticism, force, and violence if needed. The most important change we can actually make does not lie outside of ourselves, but within ourselves. We cannot control how someone else reacts. We can only control how we respond. These two words may start the same but have different results. Reactions are usually instant. Responses are usually pre-planned.
There is a huge difference between reacting and responding. A reaction is typically quick, without much thought, tense and aggressive. A response is thought out, calm and non-threatening. A reaction typically provokes more reactions – perpetuating a long line of hatefulness with nothing accomplished. A response typically provokes discussion – perpetuating healthy discussion (debate even) that leads to resolution.
As a Jesus follower, we’ve been given a plan in understanding and responding to the current divide within our country…
It starts with us first.
1. Look in the mirror before you look out the window.
I heard Jim Collins reference this illustration in a talk about his book “Good to Great.”
Level 5 leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility.
We can’t change people. It’s easier to point out the change that someone else needs to make or the flaw that they have, rather than do something about our own. We are around ourselves daily. We’ve gotten used to our opinions (right or wrong) and our weaknesses. It’s like that spot on the carpet that you were upset about at first, but now don’t even notice…until someone points it out. Then you’re embarrassed and get all defensive on why you haven’t taken care of it yet. (With 3 kids I know my carpets need cleaning in the worst way…so if anyone wants to volunteer, I won’t mind.)
Jesus gives us some pretty good advice on pointing out the flaws in others before our own.
“Worry about the log in your eye, before the speck in someone else’s.” (Matthew 7:3-5.)
- What area of your life have you been postponing addressing?
2. Guard your thoughts.
You’ve heard it.
Our thoughts lead to actions. Our actions lead to habits. Our habits create our character. Our character directs our life.
As followers of Christ, we aren’t just responsible for our actions but on the condition of our heart. The heart is the storehouse of our thoughts and emotions that direct our actions. During His “Sermon on the Mount“, Jesus addressed that we are not only guilty because of our actions, but because of what can be hidden in our hearts. His ancestor, Solomon, even informed his son on the importance of guarding his heart above all else since it directed his life.
If we are not careful we can allow the voices around us to shape our thoughts. The news anchors, the politicians, the protestors, social media, our family, friends, and co-workers should not be the source of the thoughts that direct our actions. Most of those views are emotionally spurred. Instead, our thoughts and actions should be inspired by the Word and the Spirit of God.
- If you were to sit and think, which of your opinions, thoughts, and views of others are really your own and which are actually an echo of what you have heard?
3. Forgive as much as possible.
We withhold forgiveness thinking it punishes others for the hurt they have caused. Offering forgiving doesn’t necessarily help the one who has hurt us. It frees us from prolonging the hurt they’ve caused us. Jesus illustrates this beautifully with his parable of the Unforgiving Debtor.
One of the more popular quotes of forgiveness I’ve heard is…
“Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison thinking it will affect the person you are mad at.”
Forgiving is probably the most difficult and most beneficial thing you can do. But you can’t wait on the one who’s hurt you to ask for it, That may never happen. The best thing you can do is work at forgiving them as soon as possible. It is not something that happens instantly. It takes time and effort.
Here are some gut checks to tell when you have forgiven someone. This isn’t a definitive list but it will get you started.
- When their name is mentioned, do you immediately think of how they’ve hurt you?
- Do you hope for their success or their failure?
- Would you help them if they asked for your help and it was within your ability?
- Do you go out of your way to avoid them?
- Is there anyone in your life that you are still withholding forgiveness from?
Every good response starts with a plan. Your response is determined by directing the way you think.