“. . . and so you shall be a blessing.”
A few days ago, I watched Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk on the current pandemic of shaming and bullying via social media. Mine was one of 3.1 million views as of April 15. (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design; you can see talks at ted.com.)
Whatever you think of Ms. Lewinsky’s 1998 behavior, her recent talk was a profound challenge to modern culture. I encourage you to view it for yourself.
Browse enough online news comments and you will concur that our culture needs to do something about what has become, as Lewinsky calls it, a bloodsport of public shaming. There seems to be little interest in reasoned conversations, especially in the online world when it seems so easy to fire comments through the Cloud with impunity.
Jesus warned us that when wickedness increases in a society, the ability to love will petrify (Matthew 24:12). It is more than embarrassing; it is a sign of the end of a world. What is this petrifaction like? We feel it when spiritual fatigue sets in, and we become cynical and defensive. We see it when people swarm like sharks to prey upon those who seem weak and vulnerable. We see it when real people’s lives are sacrificed upon the altar of some cause. It is the death of empathy and compassion.
Thank God that Jesus left us some hope: “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 13). God will always raise up people like Abraham who will do the hard work of honoring their own human needs and those of others. I want to be one of them. I want to be one who gives the following:
■ Attention: I flourish when others take genuine interest in me, what I like and dislike, what inspires and motivates me. When they do this without being overbearing or intrusive, I feel heard and noticed (vs. being ignored). In like manner, others need me to take a genuine interest in them without making myself responsible for them. Like me, they have reasons why things matter to them. I don’t have to agree with or join them, but I owe them an honest hearing and an empathetic response.
■ Acceptance: I am invigorated when others genuinely and appropriately welcome me with my interests, activities, preferences and flaws without trying to alter me. When this happens, I feel appreciated and validated (vs. being shamed). Likewise, my neighbor feels freed when I resist the temptation to reshape him in my image. I understand that I have no power or right to change another person through force of will, manipulation of emotion, or “playing the God card.” Acceptance is where a healthy relationship begins and within which any truly needed change can grow.
■ Affection: I long to experience love from those with whom I share life. This is a sign that I matter and am enjoyed. These expressions are not tied to something that I produce, but rather for who I am becoming. Gifts, physical touch, loving words and acts of service energize me. Affection is not something that is ever deserved. I am responsible to proactively express my love for the people in my life. Both of us are better when I take the first step in this.
■ Appreciation: I thrive when I know I am making a contribution to other lives that is valued. My sense of honor is significantly tied to this. In the same way, I owe so much to so many. People need to be elevated in my eyes. But it needs to be genuine and not just a means to get them to do more for me (e.g., an exchange).
■ Allowing: I feel safe when others let me be myself and express the depth of my convictions, even if it pushes the boundaries of politeness or social acceptability.
When this happens, I sense freedom to explore life and live outside my box. Like Steven Covey used to say, I will seek first to understand before seeking to be understood. It is always up to me to take the first step to work toward real, lasting and heart-felt change in our troubled times.
Jarvis has lived in Hancock County since 1989 and has served as the lead chaplain at Hancock Regional Hospital since August 2003. He enjoys golf, old movies, reading and celebrating life with his wife and children. This weekly column is written by local clergy members. Send comments to email@example.com