“Why do we need to feel virtuous? When I feel self-righteous, am I in the mode that can produce terrorism?” ~Madeleine L’Engle, Bright Evening Star
Back to the question of being “right” again…I can’t get away from it. When I need to be right, am I any better than anyone else who needs to be right? Of course, I’m not, but it’s so easy in those moments to convince myself that because the causes I fight for are just and focused on inequality, it’s okay for me to close my mind to what anyone else has to say. And it isn’t any better…but it’s so easy to just turn off that little voice that says that sometimes being right doesn’t make things any better…and it can definitely make things worse.
My friend K. writes a blog about parenting, and she wrote a few days ago about how people judge other parents by their own standards of parenting…and how this turns people against each other. We all want so much to believe that we’re doing the right thing for ourselves, for our families, for our Gods, for our causes, that we convince ourselves by shutting out the rest of the arguments. We try to yell louder than everyone else.
And so, when I read the quote from Madeleine L’Engle that opened this piece, it really hit me how true it is. As I struggle with what it means to be right, I’m also struggling to find the balance between war and peace, destruction and creation. So much of what destroys in this world comes not from the goal of destruction, but from the goal of proving once and for all who is right. And I don’t want to be right if that’s the cost.
But in those moments of self-righteousness and indignant political/religious/social anger, it can be really hard to remember that…
“Hate has erased all the normal barriers…Hate is contagious. We asked ourselves how immune we were…” ~Madeleine L’Engle, Bright Evening Star
The story this week, readers, is in the questions.
I am a 26-year-old returned missionary, have a temple recommend, serve in the Elder's Quorum presidency in my singles ward, and am attracted to men. Without detailing the entire melodramatic saga, I've been dealing with this issue my entire life, but it has really consumed a lot of my attention, energy, and vitality in the last four years.
This week I received a long message from a young Mormon man in Canada. In several thick paragraphs, he poured out his story—a story of an orthodox Mormon family wrecked by illness and addiction, of divorce, poverty, and growing up on the streets, of an overworked single mother and an oldest son looking out for disabled younger siblings, while taking abuse from his addict dad, who after much struggle is trying to get his life together.
”When I am able to resist the temptation to judge others, I can see them as teachers of forgiveness in my life, reminding me that I can only have peace of mind when I forgive rather than judge.”
- Jerry Jampolsky
It’s really hard not to judge people. It’s something I struggle with almost every day. I make snap judgments, jump to conclusions, make statements that are broad and sweeping…it’s been something that has damaged relationships with friends, caused friction with co-workers, and generally made me a difficult person to interact with in many cases.
And I’m training to be a psychotherapist. My job is to be the person who holds people in warm regard and offers them a non-judgmental safe space. This is hard. But I think this is one of the lessons that I’m in this life to work on. All the years of struggling with my own judgmental impulses is a part of the journey, and I hope that I can weigh all of those experiences as ways that I have learned. I’m not saying I’m there…I don’t know if I can get there in less than a lifetime…but I’m trying.
So for today, I am trying to open my mind a little more than I did yesterday. For this moment, I am trying to take a deep breath before reacting. But I can’t promise that I can do it every day. All I can do is try.
“There is a great temptation to suggest to myself or others where God is working and where not, when God is present and when not, but nobody, no Christian leader, priest, or pastor, no monk or nun, and no spiritual director has any ‘special’ knowledge about God.” ~Henri Nouwen
So, there’s an election going on. And while my vocal, political, feminist voice wants to shout to the rooftops that certain candidates who claim to know what it means to be Christian, or right, or moral, are anything but, I’m learning that it’s more complicated than that. My cousin commented one day on Facebook that she hates how Christian has become a word that people use as if it’s bad, tainted, ruined by those who are in the public eye and claim to speak on behalf of Christians. And I want to say that they don’t speak for Christians, I do…but I can’t. Because as much as I want to say that I’m right, I’m moral, I’m Christian, it would be just as untrue as when the other side says it.
No one can tell what mysteries God has planned for us. Whether we call God by the name Allah or El, Inanna or Vishnu, Earth Mother or Adonai, or any other name, none of us has the answer. None of us is right. And yet we all are.
And the high-achiever, the A-student, the reader of books in me wants to rail against this. Wants to scream and cry that there must be a right answer. That’s why I like math so much – there’s a right answer. But here, there is only being in the moment, listening, and exploring. There’s no answer key for this.