Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thinking about Civil Discourse

Ever since we had our brouhaha over the B-B incident, weeks ago, I've been thinking about conflict and the best ways to resolve it, whether that's in a church, in a group of friends, in a family, in a nation, in a world. Conflict is inevitable; conflagration is not, depending on how we humans respond to people we don't agree with.

I'm reminded of Lao-Tse's wisdom, which is in our hymnal, #602:

If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations, there must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities, there must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors, there must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home, there must be peace in the heart.

Conflict and peace are not opposites. Humans will always disagree. The turning point comes when we choose how to respond to those we disagree with. And we do this from a place in our hearts, as Lao-Tse implies. When we respond in certain ways, we stir up resentment and additional conflict. When we respond in others, we gain a glimpse into another person's mind and heart.

A heart that has been broken many times is most likely to respond in ways that increase resentment and anger. A broken heart is the outcome of many beatings: from losses at an early age, from mistreatment by friends and family, from a lack of self-esteem or sense of worth, from repeated failures, from alcoholism or addictions in the family, you get the picture. A broken heart is not just a metaphor; it is literally a physical and emotional injury.

Nearly everyone has had their heart broken at one time or another. Some have had repeated breakings and have not been able to heal properly, for a variety of reasons. Others have recognized their need to be healed and have sought a place of healing. Perhaps it's been a church or a therapist or another welcoming place. Some are partway between broken and healed; in fact, maybe most of us are in that "limbo" of half-healed.

One of the things I've noticed about conversations via email or blogging is that it feels safer to avenge one's many wounds by responding in disrespectful language in writing. We often say things in writing that we would never say face to face. I think we may be getting revenge for having been hurt many times by striking out in this way. I've done it, for sure, and have regretted it every time because it just blows up on me.

I know that I accomplish more by listening and trying to understand the other's point of view than I do by making assumptions and fighting back or condemning another point of view. My hurts are not someone else's problem; I need to deal with them in ways that do not hurt others.

What has struck me recently is the knowledge that we as Unitarian Universalists tend to be in favor of peace. We march, we protest the war, we write letters to the President and Co., yet we display non-peaceful tactics in other places. If there is to be peace in the world.....there must be peace in the heart.

We UUs need to examine, I think, our ways of being with each other, whether that's in church or on a blog or email or wherever, to make sure that our hearts' pain does not derail our good intentions for peace. We can hardly preach peace if we cannot act in peaceful ways.


Elizabeth said...

Beautiful post. Thank you. Elizabeth :)

ogre said...

(Hmmm. Looks like my comment got lost...)

Short form then. At a peace rally, a fellow was engaged by a driver who was stopped at the light--and disagreed. The guy was obnoxious... and the demonstrator blew it, yelling at him "Peace, asshole!"

Bzzzt. You lose. Peace isn't achieved (or, I think, achievable) by abusing other people, even the ones who are pissing you off.

(But somehow, the idea of it on a t-shirt amuses me...)

ms. kitty said...

Thank you, Ogre and Elizabeth.