As much as I like to think otherwise, I don’t always know best.
I went through a phase about a year ago where I ate a lot of quesadillas. Seriously, a lot of quesadillas. I didn’t see a problem with it but my sisters disagreed (something about how an exclusively cheese- and tortilla-based diet was unsustainable). Unjustifiably, and completely without reason, my little sisters--who, I should add, are not medical professionals--revoked my quesadilla making privileges.
It was a dark time in our household.
Our opinions of the disagreement were drastically different and neither side would budge.
We were at a stand still.
And it’s hard to get anywhere when you’re stubbornly stuck in place. Unfortunately, we get stuck like this a lot more than we realize.
When we talk about good and evil, like I did last week, we run the risk of forgetting how much our perspective influences the way we interact with the world. There is an
“us and them” mentality, there is good and there is evil. Naturally, we are good, they are evil. We are heroes, they are villains. We want all the quesadillas, they want to rid the world of happiness.
Yes, I just used a quesadilla metaphor. And yes, quesadillas are heroic.
I was born white, middle class, and female. I have seen my share of hardships, and the struggles I have experienced have shaped the way I see the world. But I was also born into privilege and there are things that I will never be able to relate to.
I’ve never been discriminated against because of my skin color. I’ve never woken up in a war zone. I’ve never gone to bed hungry and desperate.
And I thank God for that.
But because of this privilege and difference of experience, it’s not easy to empathize with the situations other people face. On the other hand, it is easy to judge, to condemn, to draw a stark line between the good guys and the bad guys. And I think you can guess on which side of the line I place myself.
So how do we break the stalemate? We can start with some more empathy.
We live in a divisive world. Every day, the media bombards us with clips of people shouting soundbites at each other rather than discussing topics with each other. We fall into the habit of consuming media that reinforces, and deepens, our view of right and wrong.
Every day, we fall deeper into the habit of oversimplifying people. Of misunderstanding people.
Of using our illusion of right to get things very, very wrong.
Reading Christian’s blog earlier this week reminded me of my own favorite C.S. Lewis book, Mere Christianity. It’s a beautiful meditation on faith, and in it Lewis offers us this lovely reminder:
“What can you ever really know of other people’s souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands.”
We like to think that we have all the answers, that our way is the true way. But the hearts of our neighbors are a deep mystery. Their pain and trauma is invisible to us. And our insistence of being right only reinforces our blindness.
Like we said last week, our starting place (my starting place, really) needs to be the humble realization that I am what’s wrong with the world [link], not what’s right. When I better understand my own weakness, I can better understand the strengths of others, and stop seeing them as two-dimensional bad guys.
Remember the Great Quesadillas Wars that I mentioned at the beginning? What I didn’t tell you is that every time I would make a quesadilla I would burn myself. Every single time (I still have the scars to prove it). My sisters weren’t being preachy about my bad eating habits, or controlling and power hungry.
They were just looking out for their clumsy big sister. They were motivated by love.
And, for a second, I was too caught up to see it.
We found middle ground eventually: I was more careful, and ate fewer quesadillas; in return they backed down a bit, realizing that if they tried to stop every stupid thing I did they’d have a full time job on their hands.
Even in such a simple situation, it was way easier to listen to what my sisters were saying (and get annoyed by it) than understand why they were saying it, and attempt to actually communicate.
It’s even more difficult when the stakes are higher. Our worry about the state of the world can come from a good place, but it isn’t necessarily an empathetic place. Even our best intentions can be misdirected by our privilege and judgement.
Our desire to be right can make us very wrong. And even when others are wrong, it’s right to see them as actual human beings; to see them, not as advocates of a wrongness I must oppose, but bearers of a brokenness I share and attempt to heal.
So I pray for compassion and understanding. Every day.
The problems of the world are troubling, as my quesadilla habit was to my sisters, and I will never understand what compels people to do the things they do. But that’s the point.
I will never fully understand. But I can try.
Just as you won’t always understand the decisions I make. Though you can try.
But keeping that in the back of my mind, and at least trying to remember that we are all people battling our own demons, helps me to be more compassionate in dealing with people. And I hope it helps me to be more empathetic.
Even if the situation doesn’t involve quesadillas.
Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah. She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones. Charissa currently lives in New York City.
For more on understanding, check out this episode of Be the Bee:
And this awesome video: