I make it my mission to never publish faster than my compassion can keep up. When I do, when I write things that burn with the white-hot brand of self-righteousness, things that announce to the world that I’m better and holier and you’d better get in line, I stop having anything worthwhile to say.
I read each of these blogs dozens of times before they get posted publicly. I get everything down, and then force myself to walk away so that whatever emotion spurred on this writing has a chance to cool before anything is put out that I can’t take back. I have published and posted while I still saw red, and done untold damage to the people who have invited me into their lives because in that moment, I chose feeling right over being kind. I chose to brandish my truth like a sword, rather than letting love temper it to be something that builds relationships and changes hearts and minds.
And though I know that I am not alone in this practice, that thousands of others are doing their best to reign in the outrage, the hurt, the despair at the carelessness to which words are being thrown around on social media and the internet – sometimes it seems like the vitriol is stronger. Sometimes it feels like this need to be the loudest and the quickest draw is destined to drown out any and all compassion faster than it can be distributed. We get so caught up in the need to be right. The need to surround ourselves with people who agree with us. The need to tell it like it is. The need to post that status, share that meme, quote that figurehead – whatever it is that we do to ensure that in this battle of words on a screen, the other person is more wounded in the end.
I did that. I’m exceptionally good at arguing. I’m good at making the point that is hurtful but also touches the soft spot that usually ends up granting me a win. I’m good at hurting people to climb my way up to the top, and prove that nobody wants to be right more than me. I’m good at researching facts. I can find snippets of things that let me talk my way in and out of nearly any argument.
But at what cost?
Because at the end of the day, that version of me is selfish and snide. She throws barbs to people that she categorizes as a “them”. She is exclusive and surrounds herself with people who think, act and look like she does. She makes generalizations about people’s character and quality based on their political parties and affiliations. She grossly undervalues people when it suits her and she dehumanizes them when strategy indicates a way to win.
Having been that girl, and working hard to be someone who reads the blog posts and Facebook statuses 30 times to make sure that I weed out harmful things – I can honestly say that I prefer compassion. Yes, I win less arguments. I do my best to be willing to open dialogue with people even when I know they don’t agree with me. I sometimes find myself in dialogue with people that I know don’t respect my opinions or my ability to form them. I fight down my pride and the need to vindicate myself in an effort to listen more than I speak. I also fail at it a lot, and have to come back and apologize even when it provides the other party a chance to hold something against me.
I struggle when I know that something is wrong or unjust, and I don’t know how to temper that anger with love. I feel the call to speak up try to claw its way out of me, and I have to wrestle, to sit in it and roll it around in my head until I find a way to speak my heart without pride. It can be infuriating. But I never regret the times when I have waited until I can find a way to say what needs to be said without throwing stones. Please don’t misunderstand, choosing to say nothing in the face of injustice because I can’t immediately find a nice way to say it also isn’t the answer. Sometimes, even the nicest of truth stings a little, but I believe that we are better, kinder, and gentler when we do the best we can to infuse the truth decency demands of us with as much genuine love as is possible.
I won’t lie to you, it’s slow going. It’s exhausting. It’s one of those things you work at and work at and work at, feeling like you’ve got little to nothing to show for it beyond the knowledge that you did the best that you could. But I’ve also seen more change in this painfully slow process than I have from every argument I’ve ever won, combined. Change in me, change in the environment around me, change in those around me, change in the way we discuss contentious issues – it is happening. Little by little, bit by bit, it is making a difference.
I wrote a post just after the election results were announced, where I talked about the fact that the day would come where I would stand taller and love more deeply because of those results. Because of the vitriol and anger of the election season. Because of the fact that I saw people I loved saying that this candidate was God’s candidate, despite treating people, that he viewed as less than him, awfully. That day for me has come. For me, resisting the precedent modeled by this candidate to be angry, petty, hurtful, demeaning and prideful looks like following my convictions and doing everything I can to saturate anything that I write, post or say with compassion.
Being willing to stand, even if means I’m alone, for the things I believe in. For the people I believe in. For those who have been silenced, marginalized and minimized. But to do any and all of those things in the most inclusive way I am capable of. To start conversations far more often than I ever climb on a soapbox. To temper each of those with grace and love. To care more about the people than I do my ability to be right. To be willing when I inevitably fail at that, to get up, do what can be done to make it right and try again.
I don’t know what standing taller and loving more deeply looks like for you. Maybe, it sounds a lot like mine, maybe it’s got nothing in common beyond the human mandate to be decent. Maybe you aren’t even ready to think about it – that’s okay too. It was not at all my intention to assume that my way is the only way, or even the best way, but I do know this: When we are willing to struggle to be humble, kind and find ways to speak truth that’s been tempered with love – vitriol doesn’t win. Hatred, divisiveness, selfishness, and violence don’t win.
When we give everyone a seat at the table, when we are determined to do more talking with than talking at, when we let go of needing to be vindicated, when we worry more about the the way we speak to people than how many arguments we win, when we prioritize compassion above being the loudest, when we care more about the people on the other side of the aisle than we do about surrounding ourselves with people who will like our Facebook statuses and pat our backs – we win.