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!