I had a conversation with some folks recently in which we were lamenting the damage that has been done to some of our relationships due to political hostility, differences of opinion in COVID response and reactions to the social unrest over systemic racism…among others. We’ve lost trust in one another. And many of us have also lost trust in institutions and American culture in general.
All this animus and anxiety has led to what columnist David Brooks calls “a moral convulsion”. He suggests we have become an “alienated society caught in a distrust doom loop”. You can read his article from the Atlantic Magazine here.
We have become a people gripped with a sense of alienation that breeds a profound level of distrust. Many are saying “I don’t know who my community is anymore.” “Who is safe?” Who are my people?” “Where can I go?”
Families are strained. Friendships are eroding. Working relationships are on edge. And being cooped up in a pandemic (which right now is raging) has not helped one bit. We’re cloistering to avoid getting sick and to avoid running into “them”.
I’ve lived a long time on this planet and in this country. The social unrest of the 60’s pales in comparison to this moment. I had some of my loved ones get stuck on I-465 last week surrounded by one of those Trump Trains. I’m sure those folks were just being overzealous, but my loved ones were truly afraid for their safety.
What the heck is going on? Can we come back from this brink? Can we regain trust in our fellow citizens, our friends and for some, our family members? Will our default reaction to people ever return to openness and confidence or remain in this state of skepticism and gauging where they stand on all the things?
I hope so.
A lot of that depends on you and me. Yes, perhaps God will “hear from heaven and heal our land”, but I don’t think he does massive cultural miracles very often. I reflected on that a few weeks ago in a previous blog post. No, I think he still expects us to be his “hands and feet” and “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile” and “take up our cross” and “love our neighbor as we love ourselves”.
With that in mind, here are some next steps that I believe could pull us back from the cliff. Now, mind you, I don’t particularly want to do any of these things. I’d rather shelter in relational place, point fingers and grouse. It’s much easier to be bitter, write people off and shake the dust off my feet.
We can’t do that, and you know it.
- Get in the room and stay in the room.
I learned that from my friend Jim Henderson. It’s the decision to enter into relationship and conversation with those whom you distrust, and NOT leave the room when it gets heated.
- Practice the art of long-suffering.
I love that word. I could have said patient instead, but long-suffering says exactly what it feels like. To suffer longer than you would prefer. Suffer from the accusations, suffer from the ridiculous arguments, suffer the patronization even as your spirit screams “get away from me!”
- Extend mercy in the face of fear.
We all are afraid. Existential threats surround us. When you look at a person with whom you disagree, understand that like you they are struggling with anxiety. You may roll your eyes at their conspiracy theories, but know that they believe things that make them feel safer or make the world more fathomable.
- Practice differentiation.
I wrote about this a few months ago. Differentiation is the ability to maintain your sense of self and your values in the face of an anxious and emotional system (family, culture, community). This is what it looks like in a person who practices it.
- Principled and secure in who they are, unaffected by criticism.
- Sure of their beliefs, but not dogmatic or closed in their thinking.
- Can respect others without having to change them.
- Can listen without reacting and communicate without antagonizing others.
- Able to maintain a non-anxious presence in the midst of stress and pressure.
- Be kind.
And by kind I mean friendly, generous, gracious, considerate, affectionate, gentle, and warm. Mark Twain suggests that “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” And remember the caution of Plato. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
It bears repeating that I am not geeked up to do any of these things. They are hard. They require a level of self-giving love that I do not currently possess. But, with the help of God, I am committed to doing these things, along with you, so that maybe, just maybe, the tear in our fabric of trust can be repaired.