A recent illness reminded me that I need to practice what I preach. I need to deal with my fears and stresses rather than stuffing them and literally making myself sick! So I will readily admit that the current political climate has literally sickened me...especially in the ways it is dividing our beloved country. My heart aches when I read some of the letters in our little paper that spew hate.
As a flawed individual I am aware of my own pettiness and judgmentalism. A part of me empathizes with those who write vitriolic letters. I am also tempted to shut out those who disagrees with me. But that just keeps me from understanding how and why others feel as they do. Much as we long for simple solutions that shut out the world, that is not possible. I, too, wish for a strong leader to come and save us from ourselves, for simple solutions to complex problems. I understand that much of our polarization and political polarization comes from fear and longing for a better life but I also believe we all have more in common than we think be we right or left, conservative or progressive.
Perhaps it’s the gift of age, but I have no patience with hate, racism, homophobia, religious bigotry or other forms of intolerance. My goal for 2017 is to to step out of my comfort zone and listen, accept, and love those with whom I differ. When I take a stand on issues I want to do so in ways that value those with whom I disagree.
My recent medical challenges remind me that good intentions are never enough. If I am to change the deeply entrenched fears that are making me sick, I need to work Step One. Admit I am powerless over the negativity and fear that is sweeping our world. I must pray for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In the end the only thing I can change is myself and how I am reacting to what is going on. I can choose to transform my fears into faith and do what I can to make the world a gentler place. It is not enough to write about tolerance and acceptance; I must practice those virtues by getting to know those who really push my buttons, just as I must gently speak out when I hear vitriolic comments that demean others.
When we hate and are afraid it is hard to be open and caring. It’s easy to get caught up in “my way or the highway” thinking; to assume that my position is the right one and condemn and demean the other. But being inflexible will only make things worse. We all want to feel safe and secure. Thus being tolerant, open, and loving being willing to compromise actually makes us safer for it opens the way for positive change. Anytime we can turn an enemy into a friend we all are safer and secure. As Martin Luther King said “love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity.” (Strength to Love 1963.)
Joyce Shutt is the pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church. You can read her 12 step blog at stepstohope.weebly.com.