Tim surprised me with a little pillow that I keep in full view in the kitchen. It says “Kindness Matters.” He knows I believe that being right is trumped by being kind. That I cringe when harsh words are spoken without regard to feelings and when “my way or the highway” takes the stage.
Like it does on the internet. That hub of information, grudges, opinions, not-really-news and anonymity. That place where we go to find unlimited entertainment and answers to our questions. And where we go to plant our flags. These flags – these tiny little bits of ourselves that we raise to show the world who we are – rise at the mercy of all of the winds of the world. The winds of those who agree with us and those who do not. Sometimes, our flag finds common ground with others and flies in a beautiful field of complimentary colors. Sometimes, our flag is ruffled by a breeze that doesn’t completely agree with our position, challenging us, stretching us out to catch new ideas. Sometimes, our flag is despised and battered by relentless gusts and torrential rain, leaving our flag – leaving us – torn and tattered, at times, even trampled. Our flag can be cleaned and repaired, but the patches and random stitches leave marks, evidence of the merciless storms. We have all witnessed the destruction of hatefulness and pompous indignation. And my response to this is disbelief and sadness.
What I’ve noticed lately is the speed with which this happens. The speed of light … the click of the mouse. And I am once again convinced that speed is not generally my friend. And maybe it shouldn’t be yours. Of course, we are thankful when the ambulance arrives within minutes to bring our loved one back to life. We are thrilled when, because of modern technology, we can instantaneously hear the voice of one who was lost and is now found. Working quickly to assist a friend in need or breaking your own record in the 500-meter dash after months of training are all good. Very good.
But when it comes to responding to an internet post about hot topics that are not only controversial, but also complex? Just hold your horses, social media friends. Just because someone I admire plants their flag on one side of the controversy does not mean that I should jump right in and cozy my flag up right next to theirs.
I worry, dear ones, that we are deafened by the clamor and speed of these lightning conversations. We read the story about a stranger and believe that her publicly-proclaimed faith consistently directs her private life. We hear the account of a single witness and conclude that the shooting was justified – or not. We listen to one panicky economic expert and run to the phone to buy – or sell. One network says he is a phony and one says he is an inspiration. These conversations are always, always, ALWAYS colored by the speakers’ perspectives. And modern issues in this big world are almost never limited to just the two sides – black and white. As the conversations become more blurred by the speed of the internet and 24-hour news cycle, the shades of grey become less distinguished with each passing and frenzied moment and comment.
So in this world of free and open discussions, I want to be a more intentional listener. More often than before, I ask myself “what value will this really add to the discussion?” or “does it really matter?” before I speak. And now that I’m making my words more permanent and public, I find that I am slightly terrified of the exposure. Because the wind of response knows no limits. Nobody has to have a filter or an editor. So, I’m pretty much Switzerland.
That’s not always where I want to be. I don’t want to be afraid of flying my flag. But, before I do run it up the pole, I need to be sure that I’m sure. I need to be confident that the soil I choose is rich – not because someone said so, but because I know so. I need to be absolutely convinced that what or who I choose to protect or promote or encourage is really worth protecting or promoting or encouraging. That I have objectively listened and carefully considered. Because, if I am going to stake a claim in a cause, I better darned well be sure that it’s what I believe. All of it. Not just the big picture or religious correctness. Not what a big-flag so-and-so believes. Not what the leader of the pack believes. Not what someone else says I should believe. I need to be sure.
I am rattled and crushed by the world. Simply writing this sentence about broken families and tragic loss brings me to tears I try to fight back, even though there’s no one here but me. I am humbled by others who are putting their lives – their real, physical, skin-on lives – on the line for strangers they may never meet. Not just their money. Not even just their prayers. I am almost crippled by the fear I feel for those in uniform, both civic and military. I cannot and will not ever understand a belief system in which hatred is glorified. I can’t imagine waking every morning knowing that my family may or may not make it through another day without food or medical care or protection from impartial bullets. I can’t imagine waking every morning knowing that I am unaccepted by those closest to me just because of who I am or what I believe or do.
Not one of these situations is easy. I have ideas about each one. Sure I do. So do you. Maybe we can work together to make something better or easier if we listen hard and then talk and then listen again and then maybe even change our minds a little. It’s going to take a lot of a lot to fix some of this stuff. And it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of us.
What it’s not going to take is a lot of “sharing.” Or posting. Or commenting. Especially if the shares or posts or comments are made simply because I mostly like his flag. I don’t really know who he is. I’ve never taken the time to have a conversation or ask questions. In fact, I’m not even sure I understand what he’s saying. I’ve never done the research.
No. A big flag isn’t enough. Each and every one of us should be looking closely and listening intently. We need to weed out the flashy and focus on the soul. I know that Mother Teresa has been a role model to many – and I’d rather have my girls be more like her than Miley, bless her poor misguided soul. And I’d rather see our boys follow the peaceful philosophies of Ghandi than the guy who promotes dog-fighting. But the bracelet says “WWJD” – Jesus. Not me, or you, or Mother Teresa or the guy with the big flag.
So, what would Jesus do?
It’s quick. It’s easy. And it may look impressive to be among the first to jump into the comment section when the big-flag headline is well-scripted and riveting. When key words and heartbreaking images grab the spotlight. But these issues are deep and wide and beg deep and wide discussions. A casual two-word comment of support or disgust will not turn the tide of controversy or crisis any more than a million “likes” will cure cancer. And sometimes, when I quickly and thoughtlessly add my “like,” what I’m really telling the world is something completely different than what I want to tell them. Because maybe they have had the conversation, asked questions, and done the research. And I’ve let someone else talk for me. Yikes.
I can’t know everything and I certainly can’t understand it all. It’s not easy and it takes time. And sometimes, it takes courage. And some coffee and a whole lotta Jesus. Those big flags fly so high and are much less likely to be battered by the winds of a mean-spirited world. But, my flag is mine, even if it’s small and stands alone. Even if it took a minute or two longer to rise up the pole. Even if I don’t get any “likes.”
“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.”