A few months ago a friend of mine got into an argument with her best friend, and the two have not spoken since. These two have been best friends for over a decade, and in an instant it was all over with. And the argument wasn’t even that important. They had plans to do something together the afternoon and the friend had to bail. The ensuing argument turned into a full-blown fight, and a sisterhood was broken.
Society tells us that it’s about us. Not just us as individuals, but us as collective groups. That we are the perfect mold for the rest of humanity. Us as individuals. As Americans. As Christians. As Broncos fans. Everything we’re taught tells us to look out for ourselves. And that all sounds good, but when we act like this, what we’re actually doing is elevating ourselves, and our groups, above another.
Grouping by interest or background is natural. If I’m at a party, I naturally gravitate toward other gamers and other philosophical people. Those are things that interest me. It’s not that I have anything against basketball fans or car talk, but those aren’t my interests. What tends to happen though is that as we naturally group up, we become defensive of the reasons we’re in these groups. Have you ever told a Trekkie that you weren’t into Star Trek? The way he reacts is the way some people react when you say that American democracy is not right for every country.
So our lives are built around us, and we grow into it. It’s expected. It’s really hard to tell ourselves that it’s not about us, so we don’t. But…
It’s not about you.
It can’t be.
Because if you truly believed that it was about you, you would have fought anyone whose ever stood in your way of something. That is our natural instinct that we keep in check.
When Ron gets promoted over you, your initial flash of emotion is malevolent…hatred even. And then just like that you smile and think ‘I’m happy for Ron. He deserves it.’ Those who truly believe it is about themselves are the hollywood evil corporate executive who has climbed the ladder on the backs of others.
If you are not like that, then you believe, somewhere inside of you, that it’s not about you.
And if it’s not about you, then it’s about others.
When life truly becomes about others to you, it changes you. You stop getting mad at Republicans or Democrats; instead you get mad at people who put corporate interest over social ones. You stop wanting to call yourself a Christian because you don’t want to be identified as a fundamentalist, yet you want to use the term to try and show others what real Christianity is about.
You move out of the center of your universe and into the general population. You stop wasting food like you used to, because you know others are going without. Instead of suspecting the worst about homeless people – “He’s just gonna use my money to buy alcohol.” – You begin to be trusting of other human beings until proven otherwise.
This only comes by starting over. Buddha called it “beginner’s mind,” and Jesus called it “child like.” It is that ability to empty yourself of all presumptions when learning or experiencing something new. You really listen to people without immediately trying to defend (even silently) what you are hearing against your own beliefs. My wife’s uncle Doug is like this. He very firmly believes what he believes, but when you have a conversation with him, he listens to you and asks pertinent and meaningful questions out of real interest.
Maturing isn’t about the need to agree with someone else. It is about being able to disagree gracefully and build friendship.
And that brings about the next stage in the process. Here you begin to actually look at yourself and deal with your faults. Most of the time we are somewhat aware of our faults,but we ignore or justify them as much as possible. Maybe you watch YouTube videos at work, and you know it’s ethically wrong, but you get your work done so what’s the harm? That’s an easy one, and yet it’s still hard for most people to fully recognize. Perhaps you’re secretly racist against Muslims. Every time you see a Muslim your initial thought is that they are brutal barbarians, then you catch yourself and smile at them. Or what if you’re praying near the front of the church, not because you needed to come up front to talk to God, but because where you’re sitting puts you in the line of sight of that girl on the worship team.
What does it feel like to look inside of yourself and realize that you actually do hate poor people?
I believe that the reason so many people battle depression is that they cannot muster the strength to work through…to experience…their issues, so they camp on the edge to where they are aware of their problems, but are only coping.
As much as it hurts, true wisdom…true maturity…only belongs to someone who has suffered the process of moving past self. When you come to them with questions, they ask you the same questions they’ve asked themselves. They are more apt to preach peace than war.
Why do so few people try for this? Why are so many of us content with being contentious? It’s always so polarizing, and I’ve always been in the middle. My Facebook feed reads like a four year long debate, with updates from the right calling the left idiots in various ways, and updates from the left reciprocating. Then there’s a small group of my friends in the middle, some of whom are ambivalent, but many of whom are balanced, because they have learned to look past their identity in society and have come to recognize their identity in existence.
It’s not about you…
It’s not about me either…
It’s not about the small “us”es…
It’s not even about the big “us” if we’re speaking only of humanity, though it’s a good start.
It’s about everything. All of creation. Because God is in all, and I think the greatest manifestation of God would be his power to unite us in our differences.
I believe that’s what Jesus tried to teach, and it’s how I try to live.