What Are We For?

By now the routine has worn a groove so deep I slot into it almost without thought: open a screen, click Twitter or Facebook, see the latest insult to humanity perpetrated by any one of dozens of white, male political or religious leaders in the U.S., then “like” to express my dislike or fill in the heart emoji red to concur with the outrage expressed, rinse and repeat. If independently wealthy and without any family or friends, I could spend hours upon hours daily clicking in fury. Thankfully, a family, life and work I love have helped me limit these sidetracks to brief excursions. Still, the anger lingers, whispering, “There’s more to respond to. There is so much more to condemn.”

Thankfully, a short time ago, I read a line in Michael Gerson’s article, “The Last Temptation” (The Atlantic, April 2018) that revealed to me an important failure of taking the route I’ve allowed to become a rut. I recognized in myself the same weakness Gerson points out in white, Evangelicals in the U.S.: “The overall political disposition of evangelical politics has remained … decidedly reactive.” (p.48) Reactive aptly describes so much of my own online disposition of late. In part that’s because the system is rigged that way. Both Twitter and Facebook lend themselves exceptionally well to reactivity. Facebook even added all those additional emoji’s to allow us to express anger or sadness or surprise in reaction to what we read or see. But consistently reacting is no way to live a healthy life, or create a better world.

Another passage in Gerson’s article reminded me of a better way forward. Near the end of the article Gerson writes, “Democracy does not insist on perfect virtue from its leaders. But there is a set of values that lends authority to power: empathy, honesty, integrity, and self-restraint.” (p.52) The naming of those values allowed me not only to understand more succinctly the deficiencies of so many of our current national leaders; but, it also allowed me to understand what I am looking for in alternatives to those currently in power. It is one thing to know what we do not like, or do not want; it is a different matter altogether to know what we do want.

Taking this one step further, crafting a better future has much more chance of success when everyone at the table articulates the vision of what they are for, rather than their vision of what they are against. A family deciding where to go for dinner will have a much better chance at coming up with a place to eat if someone says, “I would love some sushi;” rather than, “I do not want goulash.” As much as my political and social leanings slope hard left, when I know the heart of someone on the right bleeds for those in need, it becomes a challenge to think of solutions together rather than a fight to get my way or prove my point.

In the coming days I plan to show my cards and write some thoughts on what I am for. Though I realize that I haven’t particularly guarded my cards anyway. Still, as I have been contemplating just what those things might be, I have realized how easy it is to come up with words without weight. I’m hoping instead to make them plump, flush with flesh and blood. And I write this current piece, in part, to encourage anyone reading to try to do the same: articulate what you are for. It may be for yourself alone, but it is a worthwhile exercise nonetheless. I will take the added step of putting my thoughts on a page and posting it for anyone to see. Of course, the risk involved with that is always the same. I never know what the reaction might be.

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