I Need Your Eyes to See Myself
I remember when I first started noticing some of the rhetoric surrounding politics. Flip-flopping was one of the terms that stood out to me and I honestly found myself puzzled by the level of critique over it. It reminded me of a common sentiment that classmates wrote in our high school year books, “Don’t ever change!”
Don’t ever change? I would read, perplexed. If I am exactly the same in 20-30 years from now, something is seriously wrong!
I understand there is a valid critique against flip-flopping in politics, but it seems unreasonable to expect that a politician should enter into the political arena with all of their views 100% established and then never budge for the rest of their life. To genuinely listen to others means that we must open ourselves to the possibility of being changed. If we are unwilling to ever budge on any given perspective in life, then we’ll never truly hear another’s perspective—and something with that type of rigid, inflexible strength is bound to snap at some point.
Great strength often requires great flexibility. I think of our modern skyscrapers which are built to withstand high winds and even earthquakes because they were designed to sway and flex with such forces rather than remain rigid which would cause them to crack and crumble. I think of the beds of semi-trucks that often have large arched beams that flex under the great loads that are put upon them. I think of the sky diver who jumped out of a plane without a parachute and landed in a giant net. A firm rigid net would have killed him but this net flexed tremendously to decelerate his fall and safely bring him to the ground. I also think of a time when, as a child, I climbed as high as I possibly could into a large tree in our family’s yard. I was surprised (and slightly scared) by how much the tree swayed in the wind as I held on for dear life. I couldn’t believe that this massive, solid tree was also so flexible that it could undulate all day long in the various breezes that passed through it’s branches.
These things tell me that to be strong is to be flexible.
Walls and Tribes
It seems like there is less and less room in the world for people to refuse to take sides or concede on a previously held perspective or opinion.
That is a really valid point.
You present your argument well and I appreciate your perspective.
I’ll have to revisit some of the details about my position based on what you’ve shared here.
These are phrases that we don’t see or hear all that often—especially not on social media. Much of the speech that comes from social media is like a stone tossed over a wall, behind which a particular tribe is huddled. Someone lobs it over to the other side while everyone from that person’s tribe pats them on the back saying how good of a toss it was. The world is full of these tribal walls and anyone who dares to step out from behind one and into the middle just gets pummeled.
No one gets seen or heard this way.
The tribes just get bigger, build bigger walls, and get more defensive—maybe upgrading to slingshots or catapults to hurl their stones over the wall. The person who wanders into the middle is called a fool by all of the other tribes. This “fool” becomes isolated and deemed irrelevant.
“You must have a tribe!” They declare.
This voice, the fool—the prophet—gets beaten and crucified by the people who need them the most. These tribes think and act as if they are strong, but they are brittle, temperamental, and destructive.
Truce of 1914
I think of the true World War I story about British and German troops who voluntarily began a ceasefire the week leading up to Christmas. The Germans lit candles and started singing carols from their side and the British started singing carols in reply. Christmas greetings were shouted out from one side to another. The fraternizing grew and from Christmas Eve through Christmas day, soldiers from both sides crossed enemy lines to exchange gifts and sing carols together. They even held joint services for those who were previously killed in battle.
I have to imagine that many of them at that point were asking some of the following questions, “What wall are we hiding behind and defending? Who built it? What is it made of? Hate? Propaganda? Last week I was trying to kill these people and now I’m shaking their hands. What wall just came down and who or what insists that it be put up again?”
Without walls, we are faced with the humanity of others. Our walls of particular belief, opinion, tribalism, and ego enable us to perpetuate the lie that others should be hated and loathed because their beliefs, opinions, tribes, and egos are different from ours. When the walls come down and we are strong enough to walk into the grey, the in-between, the dangerous, we sheepishly realize that the people we were throwing stones at are strikingly like ourselves.
The ego’s favorite source of information is it’s own voice. The ego has a crippling confirmation bias that always concludes that it’s own ideas are the best ones. We need others to help us see what we cannot see. We cannot see our own blindspots. To do so would be a contradiction of terms. We need help to see what we cannot see about ourselves.
I need your eyes to see myself.
We have to forget the tired belief that if we just yell loud enough, build bigger walls, and hurl bigger stones that we will somehow “make a difference” in the world. Such actions might make the world different—but not the difference we truly desire. It is through humble dialectics that we take the best of two seemingly opposing ideas to create newer and more refined ones. Inevitably, this newer idea will encounter a new antithesis, after which we must take the best of this new antithesis and this new idea and arrive at an even more refined idea, and so on. This dialectical staircase leads us out of the dark cave of indiscretion and into the light of respect and cooperation. This is how we evolve.
It requires strength to step out from behind our walls and out into the middle where we can actually hear and listen to competing voices. Those who cross enemy lines and refuse to hide behind pre-established walls will be called names, be ridiculed, and accused of the worst offenses of each tribes’ nemeses—but remember, great strength is flexible. Flexible strength can absorb great forces and withstand earthquakes, but rigid strength is weak, brittle and volatile.
Behind every angry, ignorant, and misunderstood voice there is a nugget of truth and valid perspective—and more importantly—a human being. The peacemaker has to be willing to absorb the violence of the belligerent in order to bring them out from behind their wall and hear their story. This does not mean withstanding abuse—but rather patiently enduring the attempts from the hostile to start a fight. (Think of an adult with a long arm on the head of a feisty child who, after swinging and flailing his arms for some time, finally realizes his efforts are ineffective and calms down.) This is painful and awkward for both the peacemaker and the belligerent. The peacemaker must suppress their ego and their desire to retort and build up walls. They must be willing to absorb and endure the violence of the belligerent. Meanwhile, the belligerent comes out fits swinging, chip on shoulder, only to be perplexed by the lack of fight. Once that anger has been absorbed by the peacemaker, the belligerent is then faced with the reality of their own pain—which they couldn’t see because it was buried in anger—and finally a real conversation can take place.
We need more of those conversations.
Photo Credit: Lance Baker, Antigua Guatemala