Anti-Vax versus Pro-Vax. State versus State. Climate change activists versus Climate change deniers. Whether it is in our media, that “must-see” drama series on Netflix, or plastered over glossy magazines stacked on grocery store shelves, our lives are infiltrated by images and stories that heighten our anxieties and grow suspicion and fear of our neighbours. These conflicts thrive on an all-too-familiar dichotomy of separating people into simplified and binary classifications: there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them’.
It can be easy to write off or distance ourselves from people who disagree with us, and to create artificial bubbles of safety with those who only agree with our perspectives. What is the harm that occurs with this movement, though? A natural consequence of this separation is that we lose sight of the inherent dignity and goodness of the human person; of the person right in front of you who is beautifully and wonderfully made.
A person is not defined by a single or dominant aspect of their behaviours or attitudes. A one-dimensional opinion or assumption about another person serves no-one. In meaningful dialogue, asking questions and being curious often goes much further in communicating respect and love. Looking with the eyes of love, and without judgment, always opens us to see the multifaceted personalities of our friends, neighbours, and strangers, and to be able to laugh at the ridiculous, tolerate the insufferable and console the broken-hearted.
One of the gifts of the Christian tradition is the recognition of the divine spark, God, in each and every person. In other words, when we truly listen, empathetically and with an open of heart, dialogue becomes this beautiful divine dance, where the presence of God that is in you is recognised, echoed, and loved by the presence of God that is in the other person. This does not mean the conflict or disagreement simply disappear. Rather, we become able to hold the tensions and incompleteness of life in the same space as its joys and triumphs. One of the challenges that Jesus offers in the Good News is to love one’s enemies. Being kind to your friends is easy.
In Hugh Mackay’s recent book, The Kindness Revolution, he reflects on the power of kindness in the midst of a passionate and tense dialogue with others:
“We can disagree with each other, but we can do it kindly, not as an ego contest. Compassionate engagement with other people’s views is quite consistent with robust differences of opinion. In the case of Christian denominations, they can easily lose sight of the essential teachings of Jesus, of kindness and compassion for others, as spelled out in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. The good life is not just about which dogmatic boxes to tick — it is about inclusion and empathy and kindness, not who’s in and who’s out.”
May we always be the ones who can stand side by side with our opponents and our friends.
Bio: Br James Hodge is the Project Development Coordinator in the Identity and Mission Directorate, and a Marist Brother. If you are looking for a good book recommendation, check out Hugh Mackay’s, The Kindness Revolution.