“A lot of evil has been perpetrated as a result of our efforts to eradicate it”

There’s something so satisfying about the experience of righteous anger (you know that feeling that wells up within us whenever we encounter something that is wrong, unjust, or otherwise destructive).  Righteous anger is a gift.  It lets us know that our conscience is functioning and it provides us with motivation to right the wrong that we observe around us.  For me, righteous anger usually sets off a pretty simple thought process:

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1)   This is wrong.

2)   This must stop.

3)   I must stop it.

Yet before thought #3 transforms itself into action, we ought to remember the wisdom of our quotation:  A lot of evil has been perpetrated as a result of our efforts to eradicate it” .  This quotation, which is essentially a modernization of those old wise words: “in your anger do not sin”, reminds us just how often our attempts to bring justice create more pain.

I think that there is a very simple reason why our sincere efforts bring unintended results and that is because our righteous anger transforms into self-righteousness—often without us even being aware that this has happened.  The key difference between righteous anger and self-righteousness is that righteous anger is always focused on what is right and self-righteousness is transfixed on the belief that the self is completely and entirely right.

The two are linked in that they have their origins in someone else’s wrongdoing.  However they produce entirely different types of behaviour.  On the one hand righteous anger produces firm but humble responses to evil, it prioritizes relationship above retribution, it keeps in mind the bigger picture/greater good, and it recognizes complexity and ambiguity.  Self-righteousness on the other hand is not only firm but brash and belligerent, it is overly simplistic, it focuses only on the wrong that has been done, it demonizes the other and saints the self, and it is only satisfied once it has received its pound of flesh.

Unfortunately most of the time we act more in the latter category and so it is no small wonder to discover the truth of our quote.  As a person of faith the instances of self-righteousness that stick out to me are the ways in which some of my fellow believers can label entire segments of society as morally bankrupt or conversely how people can label my religion as being “hateful” or “uncanadian”.  I also can’t help but be mindful of how often self-righteous behaviour describes our interaction in our familial relationships.  We feel like we must “punish” our relations for their selfish behaviour and so we use abusive words, the silent treatment, or other harmful behaviour that does nothing but exasperate the problem.

Silent-treatment

What we need to learn as a human race is how to be righteous in the midst of our anger.  Make no mistake this is likely one of the hardest lessons that we can learn as it requires figuring out how to deal with the injustice that has been done in a way that takes it seriously without compromising the need to maintain a relationship with the offender.  The difficulty of meeting both of these objectives is part of the reason why examples of righteous anger are the exception to the norm of human behaviour.  Actions like those of Rosa Parks or the Amish community that forgave the man who murdered several of their school aged children are seen as, well…impossible—actions that only the few saints among us can perform.

As rare as it may be I believe it is our calling to take this road less travelled as it is the only way that frees us to bring healing and redemption instead of more heartache.  So please let us shut our ears to self-righteousness’ siren song and instead heed the warning “in your anger do not sin”.  Lord have mercy.

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Honouring the adult within

Honouring the Adult within the child is what invites the child to join the club of adults

This quote, which I have adapted from Richard Rohr’s From Wild Man to Wise Man, challenges us to rethink how we understand the process of becoming adult.  It tells us that becoming adult does not happen automatically nor does the process entirely depend on the person who is growing up but rather successful maturation depends in large part on the community who surrounds the adult-in-the-making.

 Wild Man to Wise Man

Sadly I think much of the time we all too readily abdicate ourselves from our calling to invite the child or teen into adulthood.  I think a big part of the reason why we do so is because we have bought into an overly simplified view of the modern teenager.

In this simplified view the teenager is a borderline monster.  They are selfish, they care only about their peer group, they are a slave to their horomones, and they are hardwired to rebel.  In this view sowing wild oats and haphazard experimentation with drugs and alcohol are often seen as necessary parts of the journey to adulthood.  The parent, teacher, or other adults connected to the youth must simply wait out the storm and hope that on the other side of adolescence there is something left of the relationship that they can salvage.

To make matters more difficult, after their teen years, society expects adolescents to be able to turn on the switch and seamlessly transition into adulthood.   Unfortunately there is abundant evidence that this transition is more often than not anything but seamless; it is not uncommon to hear about adolescence extending well into people’s 20s.  We see this not only in the fact that traditional markers of adulthood like moving out, finding a career, and getting married have been pushed until later in life but also in what is described as a general lack of maturity and sense of entitlement among 20somethings.

I believe this is why we need to take Rohr’s comment seriously.  It is easy for us to write off the next generation as immature and entitled but I believe the problem has more to do with us than with the emerging generation.  We have for too long neglected building a bridge of relationship to the next generation and in the process have forced people to figure out on their own what it means to become adult.

What I humbly advocate for is a much different approach.  Instead of looking at teens as monsters and 20somethings as entitled, let’s look at them as people who have an adult-within that simply needs to be called out.  Let’s speak affirming words to them when we see them taking responsibility, working hard, and behaving beyond their years.  Let’s have patience when they fail to be as mature as we are—they are, after all, at the beginning of a long journey.  Let’s also value and treat them as friends, integral members of the community, and not as lesser citizens.

The good news is that accomplishing many of these things does not necessarily require a huge time commitment and investment on our part.  Sometimes it might involve a brief conversation in which you simply encourage, affirm, or perhaps even gently correct.  In my life one of the most impacting things that I ever experienced was when a high school teacher took me aside after class and told me that he was moving me from the back of the class to the front of the class because he felt like I was wasting my academic potential by talking when I should have been listening.  That conversation probably lasted less than a minute but its consequences were life changing.  For that reason I am forever in debt to Mr. (Scott) Christianson!

For others of us the time commitment may be a bit larger.  It may involve forming friendships that cross the generation gap.  The importance of these friendships or mentorships cannot be overstated.  Mentorship is to life what apprenticeship is to a trade.  It is the process of an older and more experienced person sharing a part of life’s journey with a younger and more inexperienced person.  Mentorship involves some talking and even more listening but most of all what mentorship communicates to the younger is that they matter and that they are worth investing in.  Can you think of any better and more powerful way of honouring the adult within the child?