Both/And Versus Either/Or in 2020

This morning, I awaken too early. The world is in a conspiracy to drive humans nuts. At least, it seems that way in 2020, doesn’t it? For example, I am still awake at 3:30 a.m. when there is technically nothing wrong in my small space where I occupy life. Most of yesterday happiness was bubbling in my heart for reasons unclear to me. Then, to go to bed and only sleep for a few hours, well, that type of insomnia usually only gets me when I’ve been stressed by work or worried about a loved one.

As I tried to sleep again after hours of futility, my mind suddenly remembered our Pastoral Care & Counseling Professor talk to us seminarians about how humans want life to be “either ____”  “Or ___.” Then he spent the next three years teaching us about how humans really live in the “Both/And” reality. What did he mean?

Another way of talking about the issue is how folks want issues to be black or white so one can clearly know how to proceed in any given decision. However, we live in a world toned with various shades of gray. That makes life more questionable and unsure than we fallible humans like.

One of the problems we face in our country is how those in charge keep trying to get us to buy into either/or phenomena. To make life more charged than necessary, the messages clearly state things like,

“You’re either for or against us”
“…conservative or liberal”
“…either ________   or _________”

That way of thinking also affects how we view our loved ones and the beautiful reality is that love is composed of the most beautiful shades of gray. I say it that way because we all want love to be soft and sweet and gentle. Yet, all people learn the hard way that love is more complicated than that.

When we buy into the thinking that things have to only be one way or another, we have also shifted into the “Us Versus Them” mode of antagonism. I like antagonism in a novel, it moves the story along. When we read of antagonism in memoir or biography, most often the goal of the story is to tell us how the subject of the biography made it through the antagonism to become something more. I wish I could say that antagonism always leads us to personal growth. However, as we all know, antagonism can just as often turn towards abuse, oppression, and in the worst case, war.

So far, all I’ve done is state the obvious. Why? Because I am an idealist and as such, I continue to believe there is a better way to live together. There is a better way to live in community than to continue to harm and antagonize the “other”.

“To meet the world on its own terms and respect the reality of another as an expression of that world as fundamental and inalienable as your own reality is an art immensely rewarding yet immensely difficult — especially in an era when we have ceased to meet one another as whole persons and instead collide as fragments.”

~Maria Popova from
“I and Thou: Philosopher Martin Buber on the Art of Relationship and What Makes Us Real to One Another

 

In short, Popova goes on to explain how Buber points out that whenever we turn a person into anything less than a “Thou”, we turn a person into an “it” or an object instead of a human being. Whenever we force a vulnerable person to choose in an either/or fashion, we are not respecting the power of relationship.

That is my opinion based on experience. One of the tricky things that spiritual leaders face is that congregations are composed of BOTH conservatives and liberals and everything between and sometimes, even have the extremes. A community is about relationship. What does it mean for each of us to respect each other even when we have differing viewpoints?

One of the most powerful things I learned growing up is the power of story as shown by living one’s truth. I was a young person of faith wanting to do as our spiritual leaders directed but there were some things (tactics?) that didn’t come naturally to me and in fact, seemed aggressive. My mom knew that I was struggling to understand what it meant to embody my faith and she showed me a great poem in the newspaper. In that poem, the message was that people watch us and learn much more from what we do than what we say. What does it mean for me to live and talk like YOU matter and that YOU are holy too? How would it feel to be treated like a person rather than “the opposition”? Can we agree to disagree or is it “my way or the highway”?

We like to say that it’s a small world and, in many ways, it is. Why? Not because of mileage or even the internet but because it comes down to this. Every one of us is a vulnerable human being. None of us have superpowers like comics like to portray. We do have one superpower, but we have to choose it and it is called “love”.

I’ve said it before, based upon Frederick Buechner’s definition of love, we don’t have to have warm cozy feelings for one another. Sometimes the warm cozy feelings will cause us to choose unhealthy relationships. However, we do need to ask what does it mean to work for each other’s well-being while also working for our own well-being?

There is a balance. My well-being means one thing to me. Your well-being may mean something else. Both understandings are important to acknowledge. However, if we are to be in relationship with one another, there may be ways we have to compromise EQUALLY in order to live in harmony with each other and the environment.

Political lingo calls it bipartisanship.[1] Sometimes, it’s called healthy dating, marriage, or friendship. When there is an imbalance in how we treat one another relationships sour and become unhealthy. Right now, our world is out of balance. The Black Lives Matter movement reminds us that it has been out of balance for a long time. When we look at the real history of our Native Americans, we see that the relationship there has been out of balance since America’s founding.

What this all means is that like we now realize, in order to move to a healthier relationship, we need to find a new balance. If this were a marriage, we might go to couple’s counseling. At the office, there’s usually a manager or someone in Human Resources to help with conflict. However, how do we manage when we do not have anyone in charge of conflict management much less, conflict resolution?

 “Society evolves not by shouting each other down, but by the unique capacity of unique, individual human beings to comprehend each other.”

~Lewis Thomas

 

We all know that there are no easy answers. The coming election has made more conflict and stirred volatility in our nation. That conflict has seeped into our communities, churches, and homes. The only conflict manager I know is, well, me and you. Each ONE of us must take responsibility for respecting one another with dignity at the very least. The only one I can truly change or have power over is myself. It is up to each of us to choose respect.

Peace has a great deal to do with warm-heartedness and respect for the lives of others, avoiding doing them harm and regarding their lives as being as precious as our own.”    ~The Dalai Lama

[1]Bipartisan is a two-part word. The first element is the prefix bi-, which means “two”; the second is partisan, a word that traces through Middle French and north Italian dialect to the Latin part- or pars, meaning “part.” Partisan itself has a long history as a word in English. It has been used as a noun in reference to a firm adherent to a party, faction, or cause (especially one exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance), since the 16th century. The related adjective (meaning “of, relating to, or characteristic of a partisan”) appeared in the 19th century, as did, after a space of some 50 years, the adjective bipartisan. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bipartisan

 

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