I have been something of a news junkie for a long time. I wake up to NPR’s Morning Edition, and throughout the day I often listen to other NPR news programs and talk shows. Last year, when our local public radio station changed its format from a mixture of news/talk and classic music to all talk, I was sad because I also enjoyed the classical music. But since then, I’ve come to appreciate the news and talk shows that have taken its place. I also watch television news, particularly cable news channels, and I read online news and commentary. I want to know what’s happening in the world. I don’t want to be ignorant. I don’t want to insulate myself in my own little corner of the world with no knowledge or understanding of what life is like for people in other parts of the world.
Some news and talk shows are generally civil and relatively balanced in their perspectives on world and national news, whereas others are much more clearly biased toward either the left or right of the political spectrum. The latter feature “discussions” that often generate more heat than light on the topic at hand; many of the people participating simply repeat talking points or the latest spin rather than engage in genuine dialogue aimed at understanding the issues and helping to move forward. Lately I have found myself wanting to turn everything off or escape into non-political or escapist television because I get so angry and frustrated at the polarized situation we’re in these days and the apparent inability of national and world leaders to find common ground and develop and implement solutions to the many problems we face. Even when I find points of view that resonate with my own, I sometimes dislike the tone of the speakers who, while they might be speaking the truth as I see it, are not doing it in a way that seems helpful and constructive.
No matter the topic or issue, general meanspiritedness often seems to rule the day. A steady diet of this, which results in very little progress toward finding lasting solutions, saps my spirit. I am regularly saddened when I see even some of my Facebook friends – who are good people from everything else I know about them – participate in and endorse the meanspiritedness. At the same time, I find myself feeling pretty meanspirited too. My husband will confirm that I have been known to engage in name-calling in the privacy of our home when people start spewing what I consider lies, distortions and points of view that make no sense to me or seem unhelpful and even damaging. While I like to think there’s a certain virtue in my commitment not to go public (say on Facebook or in this blog) with my name-calling and other not-so-generous feelings toward certain public figures with whom I disagree vehemently, I realize that I can be held just as responsible for my private thoughts as I am for those I make public.
Which brings me to the “pursuing peace” core value of my church. This eighth of the ten core values of the Brethren in Christ Church is further explained: “We value all human life, and promote understanding, forgiveness, reconciliation, and nonviolent resolution of conflict.” In our current context of polarization, divisiveness, meanspiritedness, and serious and deadly conflicts of all kinds, this value speaks to me of the possibilities for something different.
What if more people practiced this core value every day? What if we really valued all human life and guarded the essential dignity and worth of every human being regardless of whether or not they deserve it? What if we put as much energy into understanding people as we do attacking them or trying to destroy figuratively and literally those with whom we disagree? What if we were genuinely interested in understanding why they believe what they do, why they act that way, what happened in the past that informs what’s happening now, what are the root causes of the present conflict, and how might we address those root causes in a way that helps people feel genuinely heard and understood??
What if we could forgive and let go of past hurts, horrific as they might be, and choose to move forward rather than dwell on those past hurts? What if we worked toward true reconciliation in the sense of finding a way to make two or more different ideas exist or be true at the same time (Merriam-Webster definition), rather than require one idea (or people group, or faction) to cease to exist or give in?
And what if we were committed to nonviolent resolution of conflict? We know conflict is inevitable and part of being human, but when it happens, as it surely will, what if we were so committed to valuing all human life, and to understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation that we refused to allow the conflict to degenerate into violence – whether the violence of angry words and character assassination or the violence of guns and bombs? Violence feeds on itself and becomes an endless cycle when retaliation, retribution and revenge are believed to be necessary responses rather than understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation.
I know all this sounds simplistic, naive and pie-in-the-sky, in light of the seemingly intractable situations in so many places these days, but really, what might happen if more people lived by this core value? One of the reasons I’ve been turning off the news lately is that I don’t like what it’s doing to me. I don’t like how easily I can get caught up in the polarized rhetoric, believing that one side is wrong and the other is right, and forgetting that every person whose point of view or action is repugnant to me is still a person worthy of my understanding, compassion and grace. I want to be a person who pursues peace, values everyone, and tries to understand, forgive, reconcile and resolve conflict nonviolently. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. May I not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.”