All of us are prone to ‘irresponsible speech’ at times: we say something that harms others and often leaves us feeling unsettled as a result. I’ve taken part in, and been party to, Twitter threads recently that have been truly shocking. How can we avoid the embarrassment?
One such embarrassment came from my own ‘smog’ (smug blog) which expounded the need ‘to always look on the bright side of life.’ I intended to give a lift to people who might be going through tricky times. Get me, the Guru. Innocent enough, but those very words cut me like a knife the very next day when the universe taught me a lesson.
When I say universe, I mean an accumulation of events involving, but not restricted to: the lady I spoke to at the multi-agency hub asking if I could lead yet another EHAT (an early help assessment tool designed to support families before the need for social care involvement) even though I was already feeling overwhelmed and saturated with families requiring support; the member of staff I had a blunt exchange with; the parent who ‘had a go’; the child managing trauma resulting in physical outbursts aimed at other children and staff; the colleague who challenged an earlier decision; the bottomless email inbox; the looming deadline… all in the space of an hour and a half…get the picture?
I would have stuffed anything I could find into Eric Idle’s mouth to stop him whistling his way through my advice. Bright side of life? Give me a break! Hardly empathic with someone struggling to manage.
I have also witnessed (and taken part in) awful threads where any viewpoint contrary to an existing view is met with insult and attack. No-one listens, and everyone jumps in. It’s madness. Shocking. Pointless. And upsetting.
So what to do?
In this Year of the Word, we learn that God Speaks. This week’s Gospel is very short and describes John the Baptist pointing to Jesus as the Christ for whom we have been waiting. He is The Way, the signpost, to God. OK – so WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) *
The answer is so simple. Love. Love God and love your neighbour. So where is the love?
Often we think this means, rather like my smog, to be happy, happy, happy, pink, fluffy, everyone’s lovely – well, that’s fine when things are hunky-dory. But not so easy when the chips are down, you’re fighting the instinct to attack, or you can’t dialogue with a differing point of view. Our faith teaches us to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘love our enemy’. Pfft. And look weak? Or worse, wrong?!
For years, I have struggled with this, but lately, I am getting glimpses of what it could mean.
We struggle with it because it is counter-intuitive. We are hard-wired to survive and belong, and any perceived threat to these causes an instinctual reaction of fight, flight or freeze. When confronted, our tweeting either attacks or blocks. People will do anything to deflect the pain of a threat. We sometimes even, very stupidly when you think about it, attack and berate ourselves. Very few take the other road – face.
Face involves a willingness to put your own ego aside, to listen, to remember your opponent is your neighbour – all in the face of perceived danger. It takes great awareness, enormous strength and faith in people. There’s nothing weak about it.
So what does Jesus do?
1) He listens, really listens, without an emotional response. You never get the sense Jesus’ ego is under threat, do you?
2) He often goes away and discerns before responding
3) He shows compassion – to everyone including, as 2) shows, to himself.
4) He uses story, question and narrative so that any answer considered ‘a burn’ is de-personalised and forces us to think deeper, reach higher.
Does He ever set himself up in opposition with, or attack, individuals. He did overthrow some tables once. But not many know that He saw what was going on in The Temple the day before. He went away. Discerned. Then returned and gave it welly. It was not an uncontrolled, emotional response.
Who knows? Maybe God uses each of us, with our differing, pole-opposing views, to find some middle or new ground. When there is no obvious right answer, dualism is more than unhelpful: it is violent. When we take sides and attack, we not only dishonour others but also ourselves. God is love and therefore, above division.
My smog taught me a lesson and my first reaction was to berate myself. How stupid and thoughtless I was. The smugness made me inwardly cringe and cover my face in shame. Everyone would think I was a Karen*.
No good comes from any form of violence, including shame, and I remembered self-compassion, laughed at my ego and apologised. I received a couple of tweets in response that let me know I was forgiven, lifted my heart and reminded me again of the pervasive power of love. (If that was you and you are reading this – thank you).
So. I am committing to the following in the face of any controversial Twitter threads:
2) Make sure I actively listen to what is going on and who is saying what.
3) Discern and respond. Kindly.
4) Hold firm if my conscience, not my ego, says so.
If you see me doing otherwise, please reign me in.
*WWJD – I don’t know why, but I usually eye roll WWJD. I don’t know why. It just bugs me. It’s hard to live by your own words sometimes.
*Karen – still not sure what this is