Photo Credit: Paul Ekman Group
Today is Martin Luther King Day. It’s also my birthday, but that’s not today’s subject. In Richmond, Virginia, today a gun rights rally is scheduled because of new gun control laws slated to be passed in our state. Thousands are expected to attend. Some argue that having such a rally on Martin Luther King Day is morally wrong. The political divide on the issue of guns in our country is as wide as it’s ever been.
Later today, Dave and I will see the film Just Mercy, based on Bryan Stevenson‘s book of the same title. The film tells the story of one of the cases attorney Stevenson fought and won for the release of an innocent man from death row. It speaks to the hatred and contempt found in culture, along racial lines, but also along the lines of class, authority, and privilege.
Our country…America…”one nation under God” a phrase still in our pledge (for now)…is woefully divided. With our presidential election looming later this year, we are sturdying ourselves to withstand the character assassinations of one political party for the other…Either trying to determine truth from falsehood and where we can stand. No matter what side politically we lean, we find it awkward and uncomfortable because of the behavior of those on our side and their contempt for the other.
“Contempt is the deadliest form of relationship cancer. So says John Gottman…[he] defines contempt as trying to speak from a higher level while attempting to push another down to a lower level. Contempt – closely related to disgust – is all about hierarchy and wielding elitist power to hatefully exclude another from the community.” – Robert E. Hall
Is there any way forward in this culture of contempt? I believe there is. In fact, many are writing and speaking from their different platforms on how that might look…and how we might engage with one another.
Author and social scientist Arthur C. Brooks is one of the voices in this crucial conversation. His book Love Your Enemies speaks to a way we can counter contempt in our own character and culture.
“We don’t have an anger problem in American politics. We have a contempt problem. . . . If you listen to how people talk to each other in political life today, you notice it is with pure contempt. When somebody around you treats you with contempt, you never quite forget it. So if we want to solve the problem of polarization today, we have to solve the contempt problem.” – Arthur Brooks, Love Your Enemies
I experience contempt – not personally as much as from the social media broadcasting again “people like me”. If people who would have contempt for people “like me” really knew how deeply I feel about some of today’s issues, the contempt register would get personal.
From reading, listening to others, and trying to understand how to even be a healthy, engaged part of our culture…these 5 actions items are what I subscribe to:
1) Determine to stay engaged with those “on the other side”. Now I understand how we come to the point of needing to block others’ opinions in our lives (social media or social distancing in real life). However, I don’t think that gets us anywhere positive. [This is not to say a person must stay in an abusive relationship. Exit for safety’s sake, but bear in mind, healing requires more than exiting.] Exiting relationships out of contempt means the opportunity to move forward is gone…with that person and future “like” persons. We are practicing an exit clause that can become habitual across wider life experience. Arthur Brooks has much to say on this. Simply, “Just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean it’s hate speech or the person saying it is a deviant.”
2) Listen. – Listening Is an Act of Love. Too often we listen to respond, right? What if we listened just to know the other person? Just to show love and to communicate, “You are being heard. You are seen. You have value.” StoryCorps is even launching a venture giving opportunity for people who have polarized views and relationships to sit face-to-face and explore their differences and what they are about. Check out One Small Step.
3) Love your enemies. Jesus spoke these words to those who would follow him. Evangelicals have gotten a bad rap in our country these days, and maybe some of it is deserved… but if they are true followers of Jesus, they are not your enemy. A bold statement, but true if Jesus’ teaching is paramount to their lives. As for those politically polarized from each other…the far right and the far left… what if we truly tried to love them, to show them respect, to not make sweeping judgments on who they are as people? What if…
4) Pray. A huge way to deal with contempt is to pray for the individual (or group) for whom you feel it. Not to pray that she/he/they fail, but to pray for wisdom, to pray for excellent counsel in their lives, to pray for understanding. Prayer, in the very act of doing it, can change our hearts toward other people. Talking, talking, talking about people for whom we battle contempt…with those who feel the same as we do just fuels our contempt. Unless we are committed to pray and have our understanding of them seasoned with the love of God. Our stand on issues aren’t the issue. It’s our opinion of other people, not the issues, that can change our culture.
5) Take action with hope and good faith. Lean in. Forgive…every single time. [Not easy, nor will it be for someone who questions my heart or take on things.] Work toward listening opportunities with those we may oppose or who oppose us. Find ways in our workplaces, churches/etc, communities to join with others, maybe not like us, to learn, grow, gain understanding, in hopes of making substantive change for our world.
“Push opportunity to the people who need it the most.” – Arthur Brooks
Even as I write this, there’s this creeping sense that those reading might think “She has really lost it now”. The thing is, I have always believed that “together we can make things better”. Nothing original here. This cultural calamity of contempt has gotten so big that even people I might not align with agree something has to change…and I am with them.
Sick and Tired of the Culture of Contempt? Here Are 5 Ways You Can Subvert It – Arthur Brooks
Take One Small Step with StoryCorps
What Is Contempt? – Paul Ekman Group
Saving America From Our Culture of Contempt – Arthur Brooks Lecture, UVA – Miller Center (Video)
The Pursuit – A Better World For All Starting at the Margins – Arthur Brooks Documentary
YouTube – Arthur Brooks on the Eric Metaxas Show
To Change Our ‘Culture of Contempt’, Arthur Brooks Suggests All of Us ‘Love Your Enemies – Helen Raleigh
How You Can Subvert Our Pervasive Culture of Contempt – Leroy Seat