Our political scene has left many of our families in conflict. People have left churches. Siblings are not talking. People have lost lifelong friends.
I think it is time we returned to love, don’t you?
How did we get here? And how do we get back home?
For starters, we need to remember that our conflict often flows from our goodness, not our evil, from our light, not our darkness.
I have seen this confusion with couples in therapy for 25 years. Tension between two opposing good things creates conflict, until both sides demonize one another. For example, partners with differing priorities about spending and saving call their partners “irresponsible” or “controlling”. And partners with genuinely differing sex drives label their partners defectively “frigid” or “addicted”. Rather than embrace our differences, we vilify each other.
So, let’s start by giving each other the benefit of the doubt. The good life most of us want is found in the tension between good things. And, our political parties are generally formed around the two poles of good things. When seen side by side we can typically see the value to be found in the tension. Consider, for example:
We want a society with a safety net for people who are struggling; and we want a society where hard work, and not laziness, is rewarded.
We want a culture that promotes and protects sexual health, especially for children; and one that creates safe spaces for sexual minorities to be embraced and treated as equals.
We want a country that is run with clear laws and strong enforcement; and one that treats immigrants and those seeking asylum with great compassion and authentic justice.
We want a culture where medical care is available to anyone who is sick, and where getting super sick does not drive people into bankruptcy; and a culture where people, not the government, hold the responsibility for their physical health.
We want a culture where white privilege and systemic racism is continually exposed until full racial justice is the norm…and we want a culture where decades of hard work and reform by people of all racial backgrounds is honored and celebrated.
We want a culture where people are encouraged to grow spiritually, where religious commitments are protected; and where we are protected from the zealous rules of one another’s religious commitments.
We will never all agree, and government will never be perfect. But we can return to working together to make each other better.
Second, let’s respect the fragile state of our collective nervous system, and work together to heal. Let’s face it, 2020 was a year from hell, and it is nobody’s fault. The pandemic has eroded our neurochemical resources. Our brains are fried. We miss sharing meals, going to restaurants and churches, and seeing the unmasked, kind smiles of strangers walking down the street. This has stressed out our limbic system, which normally relaxes us and drives us into loving social connection. When stressed, though, the limbic system scans for threat and involuntarily collapses us into fear and anger. In this state we automatically give ourselves permission to say unkind things about people, and react negatively on Facebook, etc. Not sure what I mean? Turn on the TV! (Everybody is doing it!)
Third, let’s get practical in our quest to return to love. After all, during times like these we need more love for each other, not less. Be gentle with yourself. Take some time to notice your losses and recommit to better self-care in the coming weeks. Consider:
1.) Re-friend some people that you have unfriended this year. No need to explain, just allow them back into your life. There is more to them than who they voted for. (Remember?)
2.) Pray for the people you dislike. More than 20 years ago my spiritual director pushed me to start praying for my enemies. I did. The result? I have very few enemies and much more compassion. Life is hard. And most people are doing their best. Here is a meditation I created over a 20-year span that helps release resentment.
3.) Finally, let’s take the time to call or Zoom those we love and care about to remind them that we love them.
It’s time to return to love. We can begin by remembering that our conflict flows from our goodness, not our evil. Then we can be gentle with our fragile, stressed out nervous systems. Finally, we can take some small steps to return to love.
A note: I have not published a blog in many months because I am working on a book about spirituality and culture. It will be published, God-willing in the fall of 2021 by RCL Benziger. I will keep you posted!
I love this, and I love you!!
You are a rockstar, David. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Thanks Tim! Good words to ponder I appreciate you!
Thanks, Margie! I miss you guys!
Thank you, Tim. We need this!
Thanks for commenting, Bonnie!
This is so spot on! I’ll be sharing and waiting in great anticipation for your book!
This is a lot to ponder and very challenging. I struggle with your primary thesis that conflict flows from our goodness because that hasn’t been my personal experience. Yes, I’ve been in relationship with friends whom I love dearly and with whom I disagree and I can honestly say that our disagreements are, in fact, rooted in our goodness and mutual love. They want the same things I want but our ways of going about it might be a bit different. I frame this as benign disagreement in that we share the same goals but the ways in which we strive to achieve them are different. For example, if I live in Detroit, there are a variety of ways to get to East Lansing. I can take Grand River, Michigan Avenue or I-96 or other ways. One way might be more expedient than another, but none are inherently harmful.
There are however, relationships in my past where my disagreements are not rooted in a sort of benign “goodness.” They meant me harm, dare I say, evil?
Not everyone is well, healthy or benign in their dealings with others. Some have a win-lose mentality. What then?
When harm has been done, what do we say to those whom we have transgressed? What do we say to our transgressors?
Thank you for giving me something to think about. Blessings to you.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Karen! I must say I do agree with you. I do not deny the real, dark, evil that many people bring into this world. I see it play out every day in my office. Thank you for naming that. My intention with this blog was to invite myself (I’m always writing to myself first!) and others to move away from the primitive judging and blaming that has somehow become mainstream and acceptable. Thanks again. Great to hear from you!
This is a great reminder for me to reject resentment and pray for those who have hurt me. I want to walk in the freedom Jesus gave me. Today I choose love and good prayer. Thank you.
Such a good reminder, Marlene! Yes, the challenge of releasing resentment. I love Dallas Willard’s reminder: “Anything you can do with anger you can do better without anger!” Some day I hope to live that way all the time!!
Thank you, Tim. I wish many more people could hear this message and take notice.
Thank you, Susie. We have all had a hard time. I look forward to this new season of healing!
Thanks Tim! This was awesome.
Thanks, Chris. I appreciate the comment!
Whole heartedly agree!
Thanks, Tim. Love this. Love you.
Thank you, Tia!
Thankful to Donna for sharing this, I may just read it daily.
Thank you, Carol!
Great perspective….really refreshing and inspiring
Very interesting message and one that deserves time to reread and digest! I appreciate you and your writing. Looking forward to that book!
Thank you, Dr. Hogan. I have read these words several times and continue to reflect on them. How have my actions created good/bad thinking and vilification of others? Several years ago I read a book that in the chapter on fear took the Arrupe Poem “Fall in Love” and replaced “love” with “fear.” Powerful. Your post brings me back to this poem and chapter. I can’t force anyone to lead with love and not fear, but I can ask myself to do this (and remind myself often).
Ms. Bennetts, Wow, thank you for that comment. Thanks to you, I’ve been reflecting on the Arrupe poem for the last several days. I really do think we all have an existential choice to make. We must decide to lean into love, or be controlled by our fears (they are, at times, compelling!). I will continue to think more about this. Thanks for all you do to make this world so much more filled with love!