Whether it’s about a red Starbucks cup or a political opinion, we live in a world that is increasingly divided, even as it is more connected than any time in history. In this world of online chatter, I think alot about how to respond to those with whom I disagree. For a people pleaser, this is hard. I want to be true to who I am and what I believe, but I also like people and the truth is, I want them to like me.
These past weeks have been so difficult for me. Those of you who read regularly know that I’ve been writing about refugees since I began to blog. Refugees, displaced people, the one who doesn’t belong – they have my heart, my time, and my money. So when I see misinformation, misguided claims, and pure meanness about refugees I find it difficult to stay calm, and incredibly difficult to be kind. I want to lash out.
But that doesn’t work. The idea that my being mean and angry will help the situation is ridiculous. “The battle is not won or lost on the public stage.”
And so I pen an audacious blog – “Striving to be Kind,” as though I have a market on kindness. And I don’t, not in any way. But more and more I am struck by how important kindness is in my responses to people.
In a wise post last year, Robynn wrote: “It’s better to be kind than right.” Those words were important for me to read.
It’s in the book of Colossians that I find a framework for how to be kind.
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace,seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Continue in prayer and thanksgiving. I read these words and I realize that without prayer, I don’t have a chance. Just as I need time to strengthen relationships with my husband and my family, so do I need time with God. Prayer strengthens me. Prayer calms me. Prayer centers me. Prayer helps me to be kind, because through prayer I remember the kindness of God toward me.
Walk in wisdom. Wisdom is about knowledge and discernment. Wisdom is about insight and sound judgment. Wisdom helps me know when to stop talking. Wisdom helps me know when to challenge. Wisdom helps me to know when to slow down, when to warm my tone, when to watch my intent.
Speak with grace. There are ways to speak that are gracious and affirm the other person, even as I disagree with them. Abba Dorotheos of Gaza is a saint in the Orthodox Church. He lived in Gaza in the fifth century. I was introduced to his writings about three years ago, but I began to reread them this fall. His writings are as pertinent today as they were in the fifth century, because they are written toward the heart of man and that hasn’t changed. One of his disciples said this about Abba Dorotheos: “Towards the brethren laboring with him he responded with modesty, with humility, and was gracious without arrogance or audacity. He was good-natured and direct, he would engage in a dispute, but always preserved the principle of respect, of good will, and that which is sweeter than honey, oneness of soul, the mother of all virtues.”*
Abba Dorotheos gives clear instructions not to attack the person’s entire character with our words. It’s one thing to say “The man lost his temper.” It’s quite another to say “That is a bad tempered man.” One speaks to a point in time, the other to the entire character of a man. Let’s be honest – in online communication, character and ad hominem attacks are the rule rather than the exception.
I wonder what advice Abba Dorotheos would give us in this age of online communication, where insults fly between total strangers and anger is ignited across the interweb. I think he would repeat the words that he wrote so long ago: “ Listen to what the Lord says: “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29). He shows here the root and cause of all ills and their cure, the cause of all good, namely, that self-exaltation has brought us down and that pardon cannot be obtained except through its opposite, humility.”
For this is truth: I can’t be gracious if I am full of pride.
I have a long way to go to have this framework branded on my soul, but every day gives me opportunity to practice.
*“Strive always to love those who hate you. Never forget that we aren’t dealing with a fog-like “movement” but with real three-dimensional persons, whom God loves just as much as he loves you. Christ saves only sinners—people like you. So be courageous, but always loving, for the battle is not won or lost on the public stage but inside the yearning heart of every person.” Frederica Matthewes-Green
*St. Dositheus – disciple of Abba Dorotheos.