Right and Wrong (and why “Right vs. Wrong” is wrong…)
Oh, Christianity. Is it possible that, in some ways, we could have been doing it completely wrong?
By “it”, of course, I mean life. I was reading a chapter out of my Dance textbook last night aloud, to see if it would help me remember better on the long term to have to read it as if I was reading to others, and man has Western culture shaped the world’s understanding of just about everything. It’s like we still have not realized that a) Being wrong is an option that we too can commit, b) Maybe separating things isn’t such a good gameplan, if you want to observe them in context, and c) We may claim the name of God and be saved by him, but we are not God.
This is a valid observation, if you take a moment and allow yourself to realize how several simple Western concepts have shaped the world.
First, the notion that to understand, you have to divide. I’m not sure what I think about this one, but I’m willing to acknowledge that I have no idea. The principle of separating good things from bad things is common throughout the Bible, and that makes sense, given how God calls all, but only some allow themselves to be chosen. The amount of people who live by God’s word will be smaller than all people. Thus, less.
What I don’t understand is why people with good intentions would believe that to understand is to displace and then, measure. In other cultures, more emphasis is placed on careful observation of things within the places and spaces they belong, and then drawing conclusions from the outside world as it is appropriate. If we want to understand nature, maybe we should just spend more time in nature. Sure, we may not know exactly how many millimeters the average oak leaf may be. But to be outside is often to kill two birds with one stone (make a solution work for multiple outcomes), and improve a person’s mental health.
Which is really obvious, if you think about it. Humans enjoy being outside. Subtracting all moral values from where we’ve applied them, humans have been valuing and giving more precedence to the natural world since before there was history. Before there were textbooks, people passed down and spoke their realities, and that sounds like a beautiful thing to witness. Storytelling as an art that explains identity and the listener’s individual place in it. Taken just as it is, it sounds like one of the most beautiful things you can imagine. If I assign worth or not worth to things that I don’t understand and make no effort to ever see, why would anyone take my testimony as the truth? Clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about.
And that is a lot of the brunt of culture shock Westerners feel summed up in a couple words: Will you be open to not knowing what you’re talking about? Will you try to possess and limit and quantify all that you do not know? Or will you accept that you will not know, go into your life with open eyes, and humble yourself long enough to learn? The impact of having an open heart and allowing yourself to care (and thus, be cared for), is life-altering.
By dividing and subtracting related things that naturally go together, we forget to pay attention. Instead, we study things in and out of their context, and make an art of not drawing conclusions perpetually. If I study the world or some facet of it my entire life, and it does me no good personally, why should I expect that any other person would find value where I cannot? If I study people and attempt to describe their behavior, but I do not view myself the same as them or assign them the same value, in the scope of our respective lives, why exactly do I retain my credentials?
This ability to be likeable is an enormous “hidden” variable that is really obvious if you allow it to exist. If I treat people with respect and dignity, and don’t play favorites for the sake of convenience, people will respect me naturally. If I make a point of not wounding others for my own gain, and make it simple by not allowing it to be complicated, then I will receive the same measure of respect I distribute. Yesterday, in a moment of breaking in new shoes, I noticed that I had rubbed raw a little dot on my ankle, and I was bleeding. Being of sound mind, I looked for a bathroom, and hobbled there, as it was becoming increasingly hard to walk, and I knew going into that building that I needed to check out whatever scrape was there. I got a piece of paper towel and folded it, to stop the bleeding and form a cushion on my ankle. I hobbled down the hallway, and started a random conversation with a guy passing there. Without skipping a beat, I asked if he knew where I could find a bandaid. He said that they would probably have them in the office he was headed to, and I could come with him. Even more bold, I asked if he would bring me one? I said I’d give him a fist bump as payment, making about half of a joke. I sat on the bench outside my class, and this kind gentleman brought me two band aids; one for now and one for later. The only reason he did that is because I trusted that he might, and asked. He seemed nice enough. The worst thing that could happen if he said no was that I asked another person. I asked. And suddenly, it provided the opportunity to share my solution, and not hobble 2 stories and a staircase to where I would have probably asked for one band aid. See how that works?
Giving and receiving respect is no different in anything else. If people do not feel like they are allowed to care for you, they simply will not. If you allow yourself to be cared for (you basically let yourself be a “loveable” person), people will care for you. They may not always agree with you. But they will respect you, based on the respect you have given. That will protect you. Seriously. You will by physically protected oftentimes by the attitude of care and respect that you promote. I don’t have numbers for that. But I dare you to try it out.
I did this another time recently too, while I was eating lunch in the Union. Having forgotten the all sacred manna of ketchup, I asked a complete stranger if he would watch my lunch at the table nearby, while I ran to get ketchup. He seemed a little surprised, but nice and willing. I’m no scrub (and I don’t want to cultivate bad habits), so I took my backpack with me (it had the most amount of things I value). I left my lunch there. Seeing as it would be too much to carry otherwise, I returned with a handful of ketchup, my things un-disturbed, and a new person I could be grateful for. And I swear to God if that isn’t the kind of networking that is valuable and makes you the type of person people want to be around, I don’t know what is.
I like to test my conclusions, from time to time. Sometimes, I realize when I’m bothering people, or they become overwhelmed by excess energy, depending where I’m at. Now, I could take it personally, and normally in the past, I would. But some people just crave having quiet. Yesterday, I got to get to know a person who is really quite lovely to talk to, but she’s naturally quieter. She is a person that really enjoys harmony and balance, and you can see it in how she acts, the words she chooses, and how she moves.
But she was overwhelmed in a moment I was chattering about something. Come to find out, she didn’t get to sleep much the night before. Now, I was chattery as hell, and that probably didn’t help. I shut up, and tried to listen more, as to give everyone else a break. It was probably hard enough for her to stay awake in class, especially as it was a class given over the lunch hour. But she seemed nice. Generally speaking, if people don’t want to seem nice, they make it very obvious. If I had taken offense or become upset without just being nice and letting the details fall where they may, I may never have realized how easy she is to talk to, and we would have never had a chance to allow that situation to be no more and no less than what it was. Being able to accept things exactly as they are, and yet, not judge, is the attitude of Jesus that I aspire to.
Yes, Jesus will judge. But he is also my judge. And I am not your judge, he is. So I will try not to judge. And I will let things be neither good or bad while I gather the information I need to understand how I feel about the things I cannot yet explain. Sometimes my feelings can help me come to conclusions I would not otherwise seek. If I make you or your place in the Universe less by attempting to answer my question, my conclusions should be disregarded, because they will be. No one operates inside a vacuum, and the people skills that many academics lack can really be boiled down to the value they assign to things that could be infinitely more special.
Knowing by Psychology that humans can absorb certain aspects of their environments, and knowing by Biology that our environments physically shape our existence, and knowing by Chemistry that our environments compose who we are, and knowing by Philosophy and Western Civilization something about tabula rasa, and that mankind is shaped by the reality around him/her, and knowing according to your friend in your Western Civ class that your professor looks like a frog and probably was raised by frogs, can we just take it on “duh” that the things we see may be related to one another in ways we will never be fully able to explain?
I don’t expect explanations, but I do expect kindness. And if you aren’t kind to me, I will find others that are. I know that there are a certain amount of kind people and not kind people in any place I am in, and they are often the exact same people, given different circumstances. If I allow a person to be kind by giving them kindness and providing the reality that they may be capable of reciprocating it (and should), then who is to say the Gospel isn’t basically derived from the same attitude I have just given? Could giving my first fruits before God really just mean that I have a giving attitude, and will not accept giving less than I can in the ways that I can?
Clearly, you have to know what you have to give. But knowing what God has given you will be a blessing, because then you can find creative means to give more over time. No one said you have to be perfect; that is for Jesus. But to allow yourself to be nice for no good reason? That is for you and I.
I get to go to class soon. It’s in about forty minutes, actually. I’m grateful to be able to learn, and although that may not be common here always, I don’t believe it can’t be. I don’t believe that loving learning is anything to be ashamed of, in fact, I think it makes you a more loveable (capable of accepting love) person. I’m not particularly looking forward to going to class today, but I’m going, and I’m sure I will be able to muster up some excitement in the next forty minutes. If not, then at least I can be chill and just listen calmly to my teacher as I take notes. He’s kind of a strange guy, but he’s nice, and I like that. So until then, I’m going to allow myself to consider enjoying my class. It will happen anyways. I may as well enjoy it.