A long-time friend stopped by for a quick visit, one of only a handful in the past two years. But while the chat was welcome, the stilted politeness was new and awkward. We never talk about it, but she and I both know we’ve moved in different directions with respect to pandemic-related questions. That day, we couldn’t seem to puncture the wall those differences have erected in our relationship.
How many would agree that one of the great tragedies of the past two years has been the slow, insidious building of walls between people? In some cases, the walls may be nearly invisible. We are polite, even laughing together, but the laughter is slightly forced, the politeness stifling. We’re working extra hard to avoid offending one another or to start a conversation that will stir up our differing views. So we settle for surface and shallow.
In some cases, the polite conversation may be laced with jokes that take a stab at the other person’s views and choices. It’s not an overt jab (pardon the pun), but it clearly makes fun.
In other cases, the walls couldn’t be more obvious – we’ve set aside polite restraint and are freely delivering our opinions to one another as plentifully as Amazon orders. Sometimes those opinions come coated with accusations and name-calling.
Whatever the case – careful politeness, politeness laced with insults, overt disagreement – walls now loom that didn’t exist before.
It’s saddest to see this divide in our families, institutions and friendships, where it once seemed the most loving of all.
Or maybe the love hasn’t disappeared
I can already hear the counter-argument to what I’ve just said. The divide may be there, but it’s not a problem (I can hear someone saying). When I politely avoid discussing our differences, that’s a form of love. I don’t want to offend. When I make a joke of some one’s views, that’s a form of love. I’m trying to show them how misguided they are, without being overtly mean about it. When I deliver my honest opinion about an issue, that’s a form of love. I care enough about them to speak the truth. I don’t want them to end up doing the wrong thing or believing the wrong thing.
These all sound like valid points. Who’s to say we’re not all being loving? Me, with my bend-over-backward politeness; you with your stick-it-in-my-face truth; him with his wink-wink joke-stabs.
Well, let’s see how these approaches stack up against the most reliable love test ever created. Here’s the rubric.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
It does not envy.
It does not boast.
It is not proud.
It does not dishonour others.
It is not self-seeking.
It is not easily angered.
It keeps no records of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.
It always protects, always hopes, always trust, always perseveres (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
I truly believe that if we search our hearts, all of us will discover we’re aching for an outpouring of the kind of love described above.
I know that kind of love is possible because I’ve witnessed and experienced it from people around me, even during the pandemic. People who made very different choices than I have never left me cold with their icy politeness, sour with their acrid jokes or hurt with their accusations. They’ve just loved me, unfailingly, unconditionally, in action.
Those without sight
There is no greater love than for a person to lay down her life for her friend. Jesus said this before going to the cross. Sometimes, though, we may just need to remove our eyeballs, symbolically speaking.
I work with people who are blind. Sometimes I need to talk them through a place that they aren’t familiar with. To give this guidance, I must become as though I were blind. I must be seeing and yet figure out what it is like to be in that place at that time as someone who cannot see.
What if the secret to ending this pandemic of walls is to take a sighted person’s approach with people who are blind?
What would happen if we each tried to see the world from the perspectives of those in our circles who have made difference choices?
Caveat: Please don’t think I am suggesting that we walk around as those with 20/20 vision when it comes to the “truth” about the pandemic, while viewing everyone with other perspectives as those who’ve “lost their sight.”
When I work with my students, I’m not obsessing about their blindness. Instead, I am passionate about understanding how they are experiencing the world. Why? Because I want to ensure I am supporting them as best I can.
There are probably a hundred ways to try to see the world from someone else’s skull, but here’s a super easy first step – ask questions with a sincere desire to understand. The following are some suggestions. Notice none are about the other person’s opinions.
- What have you found most scary over the past two years?
- What do you miss most about the pre-pandemic years?
- Is there anything you need that I could help with?
Of course, what matters most is the state of our hearts, our true intentions in posing these questions. There will always be pretenders – people who “shift shapes” in order to get someone to come to their side. But those of us who are truly invested in real love will not be obsessed with “sides.” We will see there is something that matters a whole lot more than what position everyone takes.
That something looks like the renewed brightness of hope in one another’s eyes. It sounds like the long-unheard sigh of peace and contentment, the bounce of laughter springing out from our lungs relieved of fear and oppression. It feels like the almost-forgotten burst of real love and great, big, bone-cracking hugs.
Because, in the end, as we all know in our heads (but maybe sometimes forget in our hearts), these three remain – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of all is love.
As for that friend I mentioned at the beginning, the wall between us has already been dissolving, but I’m hoping for it to turn into a complete puddle, so I may have to do some “eyeball removal” very soon.
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