My last post was about how one way to avoid “us and them” thinking is to be FOR things and not AGAINST things. I made the point that when someone espouses a cause they care about, many people take the time and energy to knock down that same cause, and I don’t like that approach (personally or for SPACIOUS).
One reader, Sarah, replied to my blogpost via Facebook, saying, “…I do think there’s a difference between constructive criticism, which opens up the possiblity for growth, and negative and judgmental criticism that shuts it down…although I agree with you that the former can very easily devolve into the latter, and that professional critics like I am can often think they’re doing something great just by sitting in an armchair and exposing hypocrisies….”
Boy did she say that well. And the very fact of the dialogue with Sarah showed me how incomplete my treatment of this subject was. I didn’t purport to be giving a detailed analysis of various causes (most especially the KONY2012 story which admittedly is a controversial one, and one that grows more and more complicated). But I really didn’t do justice to even my own views on “for and against”; I sounded very laissez-faire, as if it would never be appropriate to say that something was just wrong, evil, untenable, worth dying for by standing against. I don’t actually feel that way. I’m admitting that and writing chapter two on this.
Sarah (the Facebook commenter) started her reply to my post by saying, “Wasn’t Jesus himself against a lot of things?” She knows I care what Jesus did. And she’s right that he was against a lot of things; the concept is “righteous anger.” “Being against things that are inherently in violation of God’s injunction to love” is a shorthand way of beginning what (in and of itself) is a nuanced conversation.
Jesus was absolutely against a lot of things. Here are a few: he was against the mistreatment of the poor; he was against turning the Temple into a marketplace; he was against children being shunned and pushed away in favor of more important people. He was against lepers and prostitutes and outcasts being, well, outcast. He was against the wealthy feeling that they had it all together; he was against those with titles thinking they were “all that.”
And I (and many people of all faiths) would agree with those “against’s.” Put them all in the “against” column for me.
So when is “against” good, and when is it bad? Well Sarah said it well — that some sorts of criticism are constructive; others are judgmental. For me it’s all about whether dialogue results or someone is simply silenced and shamed for their view.
I have a sticker on my bathroom mirror (smack dab in the physical space I share with my husband of thirty years) that says, “Love first; ask questions later.” Seriously, living lovingly is hardest with those we love most sometimes. If I can’t do it in the privacy of my h0me, I can’t do it anywhere. But I’d twist that sticker a little and say “Love first, ask questions to understand; denounce never.” Good advice in marriage; good advice on the Internet.
What I don’t want to be a part of is the ranting that people so often do on the Internet, where they are (or feel) relatively anonymous and can say things that they wouldn’t say to someone’s face, without taking into account either repercussions or nonverbals (their own or — more importantly — those of the person they are speaking to). What I don’t want to join in on is this practice of acting as if someone’s an idiot for his viewpoint, method, approach, or choice of causes. They have a reason why they feel as they do, why they are doing as they do, why they get up in the morning and choose a direction to start moving in. We all do.
And even the meanest of the mean didn’t get that way because they were treated beautifully, kindly, and thoughtfully and just decided one day to take a different tack and go rogue. Everyone has a story. At the minimum, we all deserve engaging. We can be against plenty of things but generally we do not need to be against the actual people propagating the ideas. There’s often something to be gained by having a conversation and asking, “Tell me more” with someone with whom we disagree or of whom we’re suspicious.
And it’s valuable to know what it is we are personally against, and what it is we are individually for… and then (as author Dan Allender says) it’s important to decide what we will spend our lives on, which wrongs we want to right or eradicate; which beautiful things we want to espouse and celebrate. He refers to it by asking “What’s your ‘Hell, No!’ and your ‘Hell, Yes!’?”
So in a more nuanced explanation, I do firmly believe in being against some things — and SPACIOUS was a dream of mine from way back, based on my own desire to say “Hell, NO!” to ethnocentrism and loneliness, two things I find heartbreaking. And I want to say “Hell, YES!” to people feeling welcome, experiencing the sheer joy of meeting strangers, watching those same people become friends, seeing people come alive to the realization of their own creativity, experiencing connections made when abstractions of people groups melt into distinct names and stories and possibilities of collaboration and community and love.
That’s what I’m for and against, and I appreciate Sarah helping me define it a bit more. She could have told me I was an idiot (I can be sometimes). She could have told me my point was unclear or wrong (again, that’s not out of the realm of likelihood). Instead she started a conversation. I love (kind, constructive) challenge. I’m against judgment and cruelty.
Thanks, Sarah. I’m FOR your approach.