Contempt and Comparison: What NOT to do

From yesterday:  Avoiding comparisons to other people’s lives is an important step in avoiding living as contemptuous people.  This is not easy to do, but there are a couple of things we must all keep in mind as it pertains to the comparison game.  

 

 

What are those things?

 

1. You never know the various ways in which others are suffering in secret.  Yes, in a given area, someone may have it better than you, but you don’t know the various ways in which they have it worse.  Life is not easy for anyone. We tend to assume people are living an ideal life simply because we don’t have all the information.  So, don’t assume the best about others’ lives. Assume you don’t have all the information- that’s the truth.

 

2. You don’t know what people want for their lives.  Someone may get the thing you want- but they may not want it.  The presence of that thing, in that person’s life, may constitute a very real suffering.  In such a case as this, both parties are on the receiving end of life’s unfairness.

Playing the comparison game is ultimately pointless because, at the end of the day, we have no clue what we are comparing ourselves against.  

What to do with Contempt: Part II

Our contempt does not serve us well.  Yesterday I suggested that addressing the causes of our contempt is the first step in crafting a life beyond our hurts and resentments.  

 

 

It is difficult to avoid comparing our lives to the lives of those around us, particularly as it relates to our hurts.  As Brittany and I dealt with infertility, we couldn’t help but notice how easily it seemed all of our friends got pregnant and birthed children without complication.  We know, we know, lots of people struggle with infertility- that’s not the point. The point is that the comparison factor kicks in when you’re hurting.  It often does not help to be told there are plenty of nameless and faceless others out there like you when all you see around you in your day-to-day life are people who, in this area, have it easier than you do.  This comparison is fertile breeding ground for contemptuous living.

 

Avoiding comparisons to other people’s lives is an important step in avoiding living as contemptuous people.  That’s really the goal isn’t it? We want to avoid living as contemptuous people in order to give ourselves the best possible chance at a hopeful life moving forward.  

 

This is not easy to do, but there are a couple of things we must all keep in mind as it pertains to the comparison game.  


What are those things?  Check back tomorrow.

What to do with Contempt: Part I

From yesterday:  So, we must ask, does our contempt serve us well moving forward?  Will it allow us any kind of quality of life?

 

 

I humbly suggest it does not and will not serve us well.

 

What do we do with our contempt, then?  What is the alternative and how do we find it?  

 

As I said, we must start with processing and learning to cope with the various causes of our contempt.  I’d suggest we spend time with a skilled therapist and, perhaps, a trusted spiritual advisor. Other options would include finding an issue-specific support group.  This recommendation sounds simple and obvious, but becoming willing to do this, and then follow through, is something few people do. Making a conscious choice to confront our wounds proves a major hurdle and most people are unwilling to do it.  

 

Confronting the wound is our way of fighting back.  It’s our attempt not to be defined by the worst things that have happened to us.  It’s an effort to trust that life can have meaning in the midst of a darkness that feels so profoundly meaningless.  

 

Of course, we’re trusting God to guide us in this process.  

Life isn't fair, but knowing that doesn't help

From yesterday:  When we become bogged down or defined by our contempt we’re suggesting that we believe fairness was, at some point, a possibility.  We’re believing a very tempting lie. When we become defined by our contempt (that life has not been fair) then we’re not living in reality.

 

 

The solution is not so simple as just becoming mentally stronger or more stoic or through having more self-will or some such thing as this.  And, I’m not suggesting that it is easy to cope with the curve balls life has thrown. It can be, and often is, truly devastating. We need to sit with that disappointment, it does us no good to say, “We should have known better.”  

 

Understanding life’s unfairness is not the same thing as suggesting it does not matter or that we should suck it up.  It must be dealt with. That can take a long time. Hell, it can take a lifetime.

I do not know if there is such a thing as a “solution”- but I do have a thought.  We need to consider the fact that we still have a life ahead of us- even if we feel horribly broken and ill-equipped to face it.  

 

Because we have a life ahead of us, we should consider whether or not we have any influence over what it looks like.  Granted, there are always things we can control and things we can’t control. Life sometimes continues to throw curve balls while we desperately hope for a change-up to give us a bit of a break.  

 

So, we must ask, does our contempt serve us well moving forward?  Will it allow us any kind of quality of life?

 

I humbly suggest it does not and will not serve us well.  The question is, what do we do about it?

 

More tomorrow.

Contempt and Acceptance

Contempt is closely related to our inability to accept life as it is.  We become contemptuous when we believe someone should not have harmed us in the way that they did (or perhaps not harmed us at all).  It’s the product of believing life has somehow screwed us, or handed us a raw deal.

To be clear- life does sometimes screw us, and I know plenty of people who have gotten a raw deal.  The problem is, we know life is not fair. I can’t think of a single person I know who would disagree.  If life is not fair, then we should not expect life to treat us fairly. When we become bogged down or defined by our contempt we’re suggesting that we believe fairness was, at some point, a possibility.  We’re believing a very tempting lie. When we become defined by our contempt (that life has not been fair) then we’re not living in reality.

 

 

More on this tomorrow.

A Prayer for Wednesday

Father, Give us a heart for earnest seeking.  Help us appreciate the value of unconditional love and the real risk associated with knowing that all our relationships are appropriately conditional.  Grant us the discernment to wisely understand that we can ruin relationships if we stubbornly resist change. Guide us as we navigate our own struggles with people who have betrayed us and for whom we have lost trust.  And in all these things pour your grace and mercy upon us for we are weak and without you we are hopeless.

Amen

Fear of Conflict

I hate conflict.  I don’t mind standing up against injustice on behalf of someone else but I hate hate hate conflict in my relationships.  One way I used to try to avoid conflict without actually resolving anything was to practice stonewalling. Stonewalling is when we avoid conflict while communicating disapproval, distance and separation by withdrawing from a relationship.  Some call it giving someone the “cold shoulder”. It’s fighting dirty because you do not give resolution a chance.

 

 

It’s also a bit cowardly.  If called out on it, we can always tell the person that they are crazy (which is called gaslighting by the way) and that we are not withdrawn, just tired or stressed out.  If we really work at this we can blame a whole bunch of people with an elaborate story that hides the truth of our own culpability - we are scared of conflict but we still want our pound of flesh.

 

Surprisingly, I did not learn how to reduce my stonewalling ways by learning how to fight more efficiently.  Instead, I’ve learned how to practice what Dr. John Gottman calls “physiological self-soothing.”

 

Here’s how it works.  When Pete brings up a touchy subject that we are having conflict over I immediately experience a visceral desire to run away and pout.  Instead of doing so, I try to tell the truth to myself. Ugh oh, Teresa, here you go again - you are considering stonewalling. If I can remember this and not react by doing this thing I instinctively want to do I can choose to do something different.  It looks like this:

 

“Hey, I hate this about me (acknowledge my feelings) but I really want to withdraw from you and this discussion (tell the truth).  I need your help (express my need rather than blame him in some way). I need to take a break from this discussion and do something that will help me calm down.  I am going to go distract myself with a nice, long walk. Can we reconvene this conversation in a couple hours?” This is an example of physiological self-soothing.  Walks work for me.

 

I cannot count the number of times I have left the house to walk and think about how my husband is a silly goose only to return with gratitude and appreciation for his perspective.  Stonewalling is not helpful but it is indicative that we are freaking out and under stress. Our work, our responsibility, our skill set to develop in situations like this? Physiological self-soothing.  Workout. Do a puzzle. Water your plants. Vacuum. Take a drive. Ride your bike. Go sit on a rock in the James river and thank God you live in such a cool place! It’s a great skill set and it can be done at anytime for no charge!  Try it!

 

P.S.  According to Gottman, you need at least twenty minutes to reset.  I require an hour!

Defensiveness is a bad strategy

When I was a kid and my parents tried to discipline me I would burst into tears in an embarrassingly vocal manner.  This drove us all crazy. As I got older, this became even more upsetting. I wanted to be able to be a smart mouth or appear nonchalant.  Truth was, I was incredibly defensive about any perceived correction. Decades passed and I assumed that my parental units were bad a giving me feedback - or else, why would I have been such an emotional wreck?

 

 

This perspective did not last long.  When I left home and got married, I began to notice that I was defensive with everyone.  Pete said it was hard to discuss a touchy subject with me because I was so defensive. I had to explain to him that I didn’t even know what that meant.  And I wasn’t kidding. I was so naturally defensive that I couldn’t even recognize it in myself. Slowly, my self-awareness increased. But let’s be real - I am still a very defensive person.

 

Defensive behavior is a way some of us try to protect ourselves from a perceived attack. We do this by trying to turn the blame around onto someone else.  (My parents were bad at providing feedback is one example of how I tried to blame others.)

 

Look, I am the last person in the world to suggest that we all try to not be so defensive!  It would be the height of hypocrisy. But I do have three suggestions that I practice:

 

  1. If you know you are prone to being defensive, admit it to God, to yourself and other human beings.  Sometimes it helps just to tell the truth.

  2. Acknowledge that you are powerless over your defensiveness BUT still accept responsibility for it.  

  3. Actively seek ways that work for you to address your defensive reactions.  

 

I am terrible at being defensive with Pete so I started practicing being less defensive in artificial situations when the stakes are low.  I set the situations up so that I would not be startled. Although I would never do this at one of my regular coffee shops, I decided to go to another one that I do not and never will frequent often (safe, low risk environment).  I would place my order and then deliberately not give them enough money to pay for my coffee. They would call my attention to my error and I would say, “I am sorry; you are right. Here is the fifty cents I still owe you.” It was surprisingly hard.

 

What do you struggle with?  Contempt towards others? Criticism?  Blaming others? Defensiveness? Start small and try to make a few changes to move you away from your predictable, habitual responses to others!

Gentleness

It’s upsetting when a family discovers that their child is smoking pot.  Obviously. When it isn’t your kid doing it the capacity to not panic and remain calm is a lot easier than it is for the parents.  So when a pair of parents slunk into my office with a plastic bag full of weed smoking materials I was not surprised by their anxiety. Dad was enraged and wanted to lock the kid up and throw away the key; mom had selected a fancy wilderness camp to the tune of $75,000.00 for 60 days (camping supplies included).  No one was all that interested in my suggestion to breathe.

 

 

I began to review some interesting data on substance use and suggested things that might be helpful but they weren’t paying much attention.  Dad sat staring off into space and jiggling his leg; mom kept glancing down at her ipad with the pretty mountain vista on the homepage of the wilderness camp.  Finally I wised up, shut up and just let the whole thing blow up.

 

Mom accused dad of being cruel and thoughtless and loud and mean; Dad charged that mom was in denial about almost everything but especially about the reality that they didn’t have $5,000 much less $75,000 available to send a pot smoking, disrespectful and disappointing adolescent male to a camp that looked like a reward for good behavior.  Eventually they wore themselves out and silence fell.

 

I told them that I did not have a quick solution to their problem and that I was sorry that this wasn’t like taking a car into a shop for a tune-up.  This journey was going to be more marathon than sprint. Big sighs were shared. However, I did have one thought. I reminded them that the world was a harsh and contemptuous place.  I recounted what they had already told me about their kid - crushing injury that killed his chance to play a sport he loved, three family moves in five years and a recent breakup with the girl of his dreams.  I told them in no uncertain terms that their boy was under a lot of stress and their response would either add to that distress or not; much of that depended on them being able to get their own acts together, manage their own anxiety and depression and heartbroken expectations AND respond to him in a way that took all these factors into consideration.  We had to discuss a bit this idea that I threw out about how I was concerned that both of them were reacting to their son’s pot use in a way that was managing their anxiety MORE THAN figuring out how to address the problem in a way that would give him the best chance of seriously considering their position. Barely convinced but willing to set up a follow up meeting I left them with one thought:  in a world that will smack us down in a New York minute, go home and just be nice to your kid. Be gentle. Be kind. Practice that for one week and then we will come up with the next step.

 

Here’s the deal.  In any and every situation, even from a long distance, we can be kind and wish others well - even our vilest enemy. I’m not saying it is easy; I am suggesting it could be a more congruent response to broken relationships than praying for smiting!  Which fits your core values better?

Criticism Precedes Crisis

Another predictor of marital mayhem is criticism.  This is different than a good old fashioned lament or complaint.  A criticism is when we take a complaint and turn it into an indictment of another’s personality.  Maybe you are upset that your spouse drinks sodas and lines the cans up on the counter (as opposed to throwing them in the recycling bin).  Suppose I am irritated with my husband about this habit (which is totally bogus because he doesn’t drink soda in a can but work with me).

A criticism might sound like this:  “What is wrong with YOU? Why do you line up these empty soda cans like tin soldiers on my brand new quartz countertop?  Why are you so inconsiderate?”

A complaint on the other hand might go like this:  “I hate the irritated way I react when I come into the kitchen and we have an army of soda cans lined up on the countertop. I need us to find a better way to honor our desire to recycle without leaving the cans on the counter for days.”

See the difference?  Option one accuses, option two admits stuff (true stuff) about myself and expresses what I need.

In healthy marriages there is plenty to complain about but spouses are careful to not criticize.  This is a skill set we can learn and practice.

When I spoke to a couple recently and suggested this principle the wife rolled her eyes and said something like this.  “For God’s sake, don’t be such a pansy. There is nothing wrong with telling someone who is a dumba** that they are one.”  All I can say is this response is indicative of a future marital parting of the ways.

There is a healthy way to complain about something without criticizing.  What would work in your situation?

 

Focus on what you CAN control

I am not a fan of living in a world of contempt.  How can I make a difference without falling into my own trap of contempt toward others?  What is the opposite of contempt?

Appreciation. Sounds simple, right?  Say some nice stuff to others; maybe bring them a cookie once in awhile?  Good start, but let’s delve deeper.

According to Dr. John Gottman, a researcher who has dedicated himself to studying the institution of marriage, the #1 predictor of failure is when couples treat each other with disrespect and contempt.  

Research indicates that decent marriages and disastrous ones have about the same amount of conflict, which surprised the heck out of me.  I figured that marriages with lots of conflict broke up and the lucky ones with less conflict remained intact. Not true according to Gottman’s research.

It turns out that marriages that create a culture of appreciation for small things makes for a firm foundation and guards against toxic contempt. He calls it a habit of the mind - developing the practice of scanning the environment for ways we can express praise and appreciation.  Gottman suggests we should work hard to catch folks doing right and call attention to it through affirmation. Constantly.

I would add a caveat.  Beware of manipulative praise.  When my grandson went through a brief phase of temper tantrums and the excessive use of the word “NO!”, our family chose a strategy of response.  As a team we chose to not respond or give any attention to foot stomping and loud profanity-sound-a-like shouts of “NO!” We would avert our gaze, go still and wait.  He caught on pretty quickly that all the drama didn’t serve him well. But it took a LOT of practice to rid himself of the impulse to respond so robustly to his passions.

When he remembered that his hissy fit was not serving him well, he would turn on the charm.  I particularly loved how it worked with me. He would bat his long eyelashes and stare lovingly into my eyes, raise his pudgy little arms for an embrace and with the sweetest sing songy voice EVER say, “MEEEEEEEEEEEM (translation for those who don’t speak 18 month language, he is saying Meme).”  Oh my gosh. So cute.

But I would not give into my inclination to gush over his charming entreaty because the little dude was working me.  I don’t think this is what Gottman has in mind. He is not saying that we flatter and cajole and charm anytime we find ourselves in conflict.  What he is suggesting is that we develop the habit of sincere affirming and praising and appreciating whenever possible, even over the smallest matters, as a way of life.

I may not be able to stop every impulse I have to think contemptuously (progress not perfection) but I CAN become a person who becomes more alert and responsive to appreciating those around me.

Permission...not granted.

When I think about my defects of character that seem resistant to removal, it seems to me that it begins with PERMISSION.  I give myself permission to forget about my own core values in favor of obsessing over someone else’s. Here is a saying worth tattooing somewhere:  people teach us stuff every day about themselves that is none of our business.  Are our conclusions and assumptions true?  Maybe. Maybe not.

I am not suggesting that we ignore our hunches and intuitions about people when they throw up red flags of concern - that’s just silly.  But what I am suggesting is that we spend as much time thinking about what our own thoughts, words and deeds are teaching ourselves and others as we do observing what we THINK others are teaching us.

Business partners, spouses, team mates, etc. are relationships that are going to require intimacy, trust, and lots of hours working together.  We do need to pay close attention to what these individuals are teaching us. But let’s be honest - we often spend way too much time speculating about people we have no business fretting over.

In a very practical application of this thought - perhaps we could figure out a way to consciously reduce the times we give ourselves permission to assess others.  What can we do to increase our awareness of the ways we judge and critique others?

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?  

Romans 2:1-4 NIV

 

Crucial Conversations Can Inspire Change

After our initial conversation (see yesterday’s blog post), this mom decided she needed more time to process.  We met two other times to talk. More time allowed her to share with me why she was more ok with her multiple-times-a-day pot smoking than she was with her son’s similar pattern of use.  

Since she wasn’t asking for my opinion, I did a totally weird thing and didn’t give it.  Later she told me that just listening to herself talk actually helped her change her own opinion on the subject.

By the end of our meetings she had a plan.  I suppose there were many ways all of this could have gone down, but here is what happened:

  1. She decided she had a problem herself.

  2. She didn’t feel equipped to talk to her son with integrity until she got some help for herself.

  3. She got help and began tapering down.  Her current goal is to be clean in 90 days.

  4. She came clean with her son about her situation and acknowledged that she was initially only focused on “his” issue.  

  5. He is currently unwilling to change his dosing.

  6. She is ok with having her own experience and believes that she will be able to circle back around and have further conversations in the days ahead.

I love this so very much.  It isn’t a neat and tidy story with an ideal ending.  But it is a story of mutual respect, no condemnation, and full of possibility of change.  These are not the kinds of conversations any of us can have if we are unconsciously contemptuous.  

Can you consider how you might have two “projects” going simultaneously?  One project is the continued work of self-examination; the second is the wisdom work of speaking up when it is ours to do and there is a problem at hand.

 

The Hypocrisy of Hypocrisy

Honestly, I think sometimes I make excuses to not deal with pressing issues at hand for fear that  someone will remind me of our own defects of character OR I am obsessing over them and unable to stay in the present. This is worth noting for two reasons:  1. It probably means we are not using our tools to actually make peace with our defects of character and deal with them appropriately AND 2. We are missing out on some very valuable crucial conversations.

Recently a mom came in to talk to me about her son’s pot usage.  She wanted him to slow his roll and cut back.

I asked a simple follow up question:  “What was his response to your request?”

“I haven’t said a word!” She responds with vehemence.  “I cannot actually talk to him!!”

“Why not?” I ask.

“Weeelllllll, he knows I smoke too.  I would feel like a hypocrite.”

“Do you smoke as often per day as he does?”

“Yes, but he doesn’t know that!!”  She answers. (Hmmmm…Interesting…..)

The OBVIOUS issue here if we are going to get all judgy is that she is actually being a hypocrite.  But I think that misses the point. My work isn’t to point out the obvious but to instead support whatever work this mom is willing to do to work towards becoming a more healthy family.

If I can pause in my own tendency to judge, I can better see her problem from her perspective.  Actually, I see her problems.  But I also see a way through the weeds (pun intended).  She thinks he is using too much and she wants to address that issue.  She is stymied in taking action for obvious reasons. We kept talking about why asking him to moderate his use seems crucial to her and she remained convinced that this was important.  From that perspective I was able to offer some suggestions:

She could level with her son and see how he responds.  She could express her concern about his dosage and present her perspective without demanding he change.  She could even be vulnerable enough to be honest about her own usage and talk about her ambivalence about changing her own dosage.  Maybe she decides to first slow her own roll and see what she learns. Maybe invite him to join her in changing.

There are many options here to support this one principle:  if it is the right thing to do and you believe it is yours to do, do it even if  you do not have your own act together.  To be effective, we may have to also address our own issues.  But the point for today is this: do not let fear of being confronted with your own issues keep you from doing a right thing.  Humility is a beautiful thing. Want to hear what came of this family?

To be continued...

 

Cautious Courage

I previously called out my own contemptuous behavior (judging someone’s drink order) as is only fair.  But that was not the only concern of the day. Another core value I have relates to verbal abuse toward other more vulnerable individuals.  If someone who cannot speak up for themselves is being harangued, I believe this: when you see it, say something. This young barista was not in a position to call out the customer.  She has no doubt been trained to remain calm and polite. But I am not the barista. I can remain calm and speak up. Politely. I do not make apology for my attempt to interrupt his treatment of a young woman working hard to make my morning caffeinated.

 

 

We humans are complicated and our scattered internal processing often competes for our attention. I was initially distracted by my own inventory taking (necessary and good work to do).  I am keenly aware that I am not able to perfectly execute my own principles in thought, feelings and action. But we can all have this going for us: we can notice when we are thinking thoughts, having feelings, taking actions that are incongruent with our core values, and acknowledge the problem.  Consider this a given.

 

But I have a second point:  Our problem in one area does not excuse us from acting courageously in another area. Those are two separate issues.  In other words, I can never be so afraid of my own imperfections as to use them as an excuse to collapse in upon myself and give up.  

 

I can notice my judgy attitude about the guy with the complicated drink order and know that I have a process for dealing with that in the future AND actually do so.  I can also stay present in the moment and not get so caught up in the concept of contempt that I fail to notice that this dude is actually behaving abusively toward a young, vulnerable, female.  

 

Do you ever get so distracted by your thoughts and ruminations that you are unable to appropriately attend to the present moment?  If so, it really helps to have a process (like the 12-steps) and a tribe to report back to that you have confidence in. That way, when we see something we want to work through personally, we can take note of it and address it later.  

Contempt for God

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.  “It is you priests who show contempt for my name. But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ “

Malachi 1:6 NIV

Read the book of Malachi and it will soon become apparent that God answers the above question for his people.  He gives example upon example of the contemptuous way they have behaved. Attacking others with the intention of insulting or abusing them was one of those issues and God says it has tremendous spiritual implications.  I suppose that is why it is important when we notice that we are doing so - whether in thought, word, or deed, we need to pay attention and take it seriously if this is our faith perspective. That dude is right, even though I hate to admit it, contemptuous behavior is common today.  It would be easy for us to minimize our own as we find someone else who has done something much worse in comparison. But this is not our model for comparison, is it? Today, notice if you are contemptuous of anyone. Unless, of course, you do not believe that this is a necessary core value.  If that’s the case - carry on.

Tomorrow, we will start a discussion on why this matters and what we do differently.

 

Contempt does not fit our "way of seeing"

In yesterday’s devotional I pointed out a disconnect between the principle that I believe in (don’t treat others contemptuously) and my practice (contemptuous thoughts about the guy yelling at the clerk).  

 

 

There’s not much in that story that comforts me. That being said, I think there a couple of things worth mentioning as possible takeaways…

 

I believe in a principle that no one should be treated with contempt.  Here’s the deal - it matters, according to my faith, how we treat others.  If your faith experience does not have that requirement, ok, cool. But mine does say that and I am grateful to both have the scriptures to guide me in a reality check and the capacity (at least this one time) to notice when I am not practicing what I believe.  My internal response was not ideal.

 

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

~ Proverbs 14:31  NIV

 

What core values do you have, where did you get them, how are you living them?

 

We have an old saying in our community that I am sure we stole from someone - when we know better, we do better.  This is one of the absolute greatest benefits of having a Higher Power, maintaining conscious contact with Him, and living in a way that we are surrounded by people struggling to “know better.”  Some days we need to celebrate the possibility that we can learn and change ESPECIALLY when our outcomes are disappointing.

 

What do you know that you want to do better?  How can you celebrate your effort today?

Contempt

This morning I stood in line behind a guy in a coffee shop who was super rude to a barista.  This is NOT how I wanted to start my day off. He was insufferable. Maybe it was because it was early and I hadn’t actually experienced my day off; maybe it was the cowering look and flushed cheeks of the sweet clerk on the receiving end of his abuse; maybe I was just in a feisty mood - I don’t know.  But I could NOT stop myself.

 

 

“Sir, I gotta tell you, if I were being talked to like that, it would really be upsetting.  This woman is trying to do her job. It seems like you are causing her distress. With all due respect, please stop raising your voice at her.”  

 

“Well, lady, we live in a contemptuous world.  Get used to it.” Interesting. I didn’t suggest that he was being contemptuous - though I think he was - he came up with that on his own.  He handed over his five bucks for his specialty coffee drink that I thought only teenage girls ordered and stomped off to wait for it to be prepared.  (I am being catty. Contemptuous even.)

 

My computer dictionary says this about contempt:

  1. the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.

  2. disregard for something that should be taken into account.

 

According to this guy, this is the world we live in.  It is a world where we can act on a feeling that springs up in our teeny tiny hard hearts that convinces us that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.  It is that capacity to disregard another - and even the dictionary agrees that “something that should be taken into account” should not be held in contempt.

 

The guy never said another word as he grabbed his girly drink (oops there I go again) and slammed his way out the door.  My Lord, I prayed, if this is the world we live in - we are in big trouble. I paid it backward and gave that teary eyed teen a 100% tip and knew that I could have given her a puppy and it would have done little to ease the pain associated with being treated with contempt.  As if she were beneath consideration. Worthless. Deserving scorn. Disregarded even though she was created to be taken into account.

 

The guy is right.  We do live in a world where contempt is normative.  But does that mean we have to buy into it as a lifestyle?  I, who have spent a good bit of time writing about the concept at various points in my life, find myself holding the guy in this story...in contempt.  How in the world are we going to change this contemptuous dynamic - a dynamic I hate AND practice?

Take a Second Look

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.  

~ Matthew 5:38-42 The Message

 

 

In the first few chapters of Matthew a series of teachings by Jesus are laid out for us to consider.  In each of them we find a surprise. He is asking us, it seems, to take a second look at what we think it means to be holy. He is challenging folks to give serious consideration to choosing a different version of life for themselves.  In this passage, he is offering them a new way to reclaim their previously held beliefs about power. He is suggesting them to take revenge off the table. This is a conscious choice.

 

People are uncomfortable with this message and I understand why.  It could easily be misconstrued to suggest that people in positions of power can abuse us without any repercussions.  I have had occasion of late to deal with this in my own life. No one has been thwacking me a glove and asking to duel but I have had opportunity to learn the pain and suffering of bullying behavior.  As a person who does not want to have revenge as part of my life I have had to navigate the rough waters of when to stay silent and when to speak up and out; when to hold them and when to fold them; what to do and what to reject doing as my feelings overwhelmed my core beliefs. It’s been a challenging situation.  I have not always handled it well. The only way I have handled it at all was to ask for help from others to guide me AND to spend a significant amount of time examining and re-examining my core values, choosing, from my many (sometimes competing) values, which ones were applicable in this particular situation. It required silence, stillness and solitude as well as a tribe to find my way.

 

The one truth that I return to over and over is God’s word (although even that can be confusing) that teaches us to trust that justice is God’s department not mine.  So often I want to protest what feels like the injustices that seem to run unchecked in the world today. But that is not my job. My job is to give and receive love.  Sometimes that means defending the weak and the vulnerable, other times it means returning to silence, stillness and solitude.

 

Broken relationships are terribly grievous things but they are also inevitable.  The primary comfort I have found as I navigate the ending of a relationship with someone I love is this:  maybe it is no longer appropriate for me to be the one that gives and receives love in this relationship - but I can pray that others will take up the mantle and continue their giving and receiving to that person!