Sunday, August 22, 2010

lighting your candle

Have you every gotten weary of debate? I enjoy the give and take of debate and discussion , but when it devolves into argument it isn't fun anymore. And when you present evidence and reasoning and receive only hostile rejection and name-calling, etc. it gets a bit old, to put it mildly.It leads me to ranting and pounding my head (figuratively) at the stubborness and blindness of people. I have to stop and wonder, what do I do about that?

I want to suggest three things to do when faced with those situations. Humility and self-examinations, seeking serenity, and lighting candles. Humility means that you examine yourself....your motives and your information ("have I missed something or gotten something wrong?"). We are all human and we all make mistakes. We need to be open to considering the feelings of others and give them the benefit of the doubt...not just friends, but opponents as well.
It is easy to get carried away and see things as black and white, instead of gray.

When you have carefully examined your motives and information, and fixed any flaws therein, then you can move to the next phase, which is serenity. You probably remember the serenity prayer "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference". In this case substitute the words people or minds for things.

There are people who are of the mindset "don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up". Don't waste your time with them. There may be times to speak out and oppose them , but dialogue is impossible. The Bible calls those people fools and there is no point of talking to them.
Take courage and press on with those who show some sign of listening to opposing viewpoints.You may be able to persuade them with new information or arguments they have not thought of. It may take a bit of work, but don't despair. And make sure you know the difference...it will save you a lot of grief and frustration.

Lastly, there is an old phrase, not sure of the source, that is very true in today's trying times. "It is better to light a candle than merely curse the darkness." Sometimes it is easy to curse the darkness, considering all the ignorance, misinformation, and outright libel and slander that is spread through our communication venues today. Frustration leads to anger, but we need to be clearheaded and fight fire with water, not more fire. Take a deep breath and focus on doing good for those around you, lighting candles every day. Love is the antidote to hate, peace is the antidote to war, especially for those who are violently opposed to you. Faith is the antidote to doubt and suspicion. And lighting candles will light your own way to peace.

shalom and salaam, my friends.

Friday, August 6, 2010

fighting fear

Fear is a natural part of life and happens to all of us. It is part of our "fight or flight" response to percieved danger. But it needs to be handled carefully. If done well it is like a fireplace blaze or campfire that serves us well. Fire keeps us warm, safe and fed - using fear warns us of dangers to avoid - like walking too close to the edge of a cliff. But out of control it is like a forest fire or house fire that is very dangerous and destructive. There is a lot of that destructive fire going on these days and we have to know how to combat it, both in ourselves and in others.

We live in a dangerous, yet fascinating world. We all respond to change differently. Some of us welcome it, some are fearful of it. With change all around we need to be sensitive to the fear that often rises in ourselves and to the fear of others. Most of this is in response to unknowns - who are these people, what will happen next, what do I do next in response to this new thing?

We need first of all to think rationally about our own fear. We need to be aware of what we are afraid of and why. And we need to reason out the best response. We can be affected by others fears so we need to filter the information we receive to strain out any false or misleading - or just unsubstantiated -stuff that may be feeding our fear. Ask yourself - can I do anything about this situation? If so, then do it. If not ,realize that and endeavor to focus on things you can work on.

When we have our own fear fire under control only then can we focus on helping others who fear. There are three basic ways in which people respond to the fears of others. In order to make it clearer, let me continue the fire analogy. The first way is to say "don't be afraid", 'there's nothing to be afraid of", etc. We toss platitudes their way and think that to "just say no" to fear is enough. This is like the well meaning person who throws water on a grease fire. It only spreads the fire. Water is great on a normal fire, but not grease (or oil). In the same way, dismissing someone's fear without knowing the cause will not help.

The second way people handle people's fears today is to stoke them, feed them, pouring gas on the fire. These are the fear pushers. You see and hear them on cable and talk radio. If I mentioned names or showed pictures you would recognize them. They don't care what people are afraid of , they just want to spread the fear, spread the fire. They don't want people to think. They present situations in the simplistic worst light, and if there isn't something currently disturbing they will go looking for it. As one political candidate said about another - "all he knows is a noun,a verb, and 9-11). They need a bogeyman to scare people and for those fear pushers 9-11 was a gold mine.

I advise a third option. Listen and learn and then fight the fear fire intelligently. Take time to understand why the person is afraid. Ask them "what are you afraid of?", and "why are you afraid?"...and then listen to their responses. As people of faith we see the example of God in scripture asking people why they were afraid - not because he didn't know, but because they needed to articulate the reasons so they could deal with the fear and press on. It's like fighting a fire....if you know it's a simple source -like wood, paper,etc -you can douse it with water and kill it. If you know it's gas, oil, or toxic or otherwise hazardous material you know that other things , like dirt, foam,etc., must be used to kill it so that it doesn't spread.

Too often we are fixers, and not listeners. Sometimes we are afraid of others' fears. Sometimes we get weary of all the "be afraid. be very afraid" chant that arises from some quarters of our society. Sometimes we grow weary of trying to help people see past the fear and embrace the new opportunities that are out there in our world. But we must persevere. Fear fire fighting is up to all of us.