The only hope we have: people are inherently GOOD
As we prepared to offer a few words of hope to the Where True Love Is community via Facebook live on Wednesday, I thought about the horror so many of us are feeling from the astonishing numbers of people who voted to continue the presidency of someone who exhibits so many anti-Christian traits and behaviors. The pain is particularly harsh for those of us in the LGBTQI+ community whose rights are actively being eroded. It's similarly high for people of color who watched the White House response to the deaths of unarmed black individuals at the hands of police. Or health care workers who battle COVID-19 to the point of exhaustion. The list of groups who view America as something much more lovely, safe, inclusive, and admirable than what it's become in recent years is long.
It's easy to let our collective despair drift into anger and outrage, and to direct it toward individual politicians, family members, friends, or others. And all too often, our anger at behaviors transforms into denigration of the people themselves.
But I'm here to remind you--and myself--that people are inherently GOOD.
(Stay with me here: this isn't flimsy optimism or Christian pabulum. It's actual power.)
Yes, we are capable of doing all manner of crappy things. Yes, we are responsible for our bad behavior; I'm not letting anyone off the hook for the damage being done. But each of us is crafted in the image of the divine. Each of us is a Christ bearer, a holy tabernacle, designed to reflect divine light and love. We are good at our very being; beaming with potential for transformation.
We are also--all of us--damaged. Wounded by the mysteries of genetics, gestational disruption, childhood emotional development, or abuse as adults. We all bear scars. Some of our woundings are recoverable and we heal, inflicting minimal damage along that path to healing. Others remain and impact the world in varying ways.
I've pondered how this reality plays out through my novel writing. In my first book, the protagonist's best friend betrays her. After completing that work, I couldn't stop thinking about that friend, and wondering why she did what she did. My next novel explored her story, and unfolded the trauma and brokenness which formed so much of her existence and her decision making.
This reality is our universal story. We are wounded, and those things which fester rather than heal disrupt things around us. When our power and influence are limited, the disruption we exert is (relatively) limited. When our power and influence are great, the disruption and damage can be epic, impacting entire populations.
We're watching that play out on Twitter, in rallies and televised responses to election results as they roll in, and in family and friends who have been endlessly subjected to the poisonous seepage from wounds which fester at the very highest level in our nation. We see people seemingly lapping that poison happily, entering into the exclusion, ugliness, and injustice with what looks like glee.
Radicalization is ugly, desperately disheartening, and can lead to our own embracing of rage and judgement. Which is why it's so very, very important to remember:
People are inherently GOOD.
Those who mimic and applaud outrageous bigotry, callousness, lies, and other vile behaviors are GOOD, despite external appearances. Good down deep, but marred with woundings which have not been healed. They bear damage which makes them vulnerable to the lies and seduction of darkness.
But people are inherently GOOD.
Richard Rohr says God loves things by becoming them, and God loves us by becoming us. When we try to view our "enemies" as good people whose wounds are being exploited, we do something God-like. Jesus shows the depth of that empathetic entering into the experience of all of us in our full, frail, humanity. We love the way God loves when we try to do the same. Empathy is the tool for our "becoming" another person, by attempting to truly, deeply understand them. I don't say this as a platitude, or some sort of hokey WWJD piety. I say it because we desperately need hope. We find hope by remembering that things can change, and that people have the ability to waken into better understanding and deeper love. Sometimes it takes a major shake up of family, health, or nation, but awakening does happen.
Because people are inherently good, we can hope, but we ourselves need to change. We need to change our thinking, and our judgement, and our messaging. If we have any chance of transforming our nation and deradicalizing the vulnerable, then the current state of "us versus them" transactions has to shift. We have to start speaking in new ways, and develop new messaging. We must speak to the woundedness so it can heal, and to do that we have to figure out what the damage is. And all of this has to happen without our feeling superior or acting condescending. All of it has to happen from love, and with love.
I'm still not sure how this can take place. I only know one, central truth:
People are inherently GOOD.
That's the place we need to return to. Over, and over again.
Will you join me in going there?
What are your thoughts? How can we change our messaging? How do we learn to really listen and respond from places of love? Add your ideas in the comments below.