The past few months, I have been on a spiritual journey. Not the picturesque kind where you trek through some tropical jungle or pristine mountain, alone with nature and finding God. No, mine has not been nearly that glamorous. My spiritual journey has been a lot more realistic and intermingled with work, endless chores, daily responsibilities and the mundane beauty of life. Of course, I didn’t set out to have a journey, but I am having one nonetheless.
The thing with unintended journeys, is that you don’t know you’re on one until it starts. Then, once you notice it, you cannot be sure when it will stop – not that it really needs to. This spiritual awakening seems to be centered around three seemingly inconsequential events: a two-week military class, a movie and a family visit.
First, I didn’t expect enlightenment from a mandatory two-week military class. Quite the contrary actually. I expected a painful experience that included charts and tactical maneuver plans, which I can honestly say I am lagging behind on in terms of familiarity due to my job field. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of grilling the students on tactical decisions and military knowledge, they forced us to expand our perceptions. We discussed critical thinking, personalities and strategy.
In each of the sections, we broke things down. Why do we think something? Where did that belief come from? Did we consider another view point? Did we consider third- or fourth-order effects? We discussed thinking traps and fallacies, biases and preferences. We explored how different personality types work and how to work with each style. We argued national strategy in thoughtful and respectful way. At times, it was a painful experience for some of us. We had to listen to view points we didn’t like or agree with. But we had to listen. We had to think. We had to consider these statements and beliefs and dig deep. Not just think, oh, I don’t agree with you. It was more. It was WHY don’t I agree with you? Then, came the hard part — we had to dissect our whys and give them logical reasons to support them.
In general, I don’t think most of us do this very well, especially in the very divided Nation that we seem to have lately. We all want to be right. We all want to feel heard. Yet, a good majority of people don’t really LISTEN (myself included). We don’t stop to hear all the sides, weigh the facts and situations, and put ourselves into that perception. No, we immediately jump to decisions and conclusions and judgements. We tend to assume we would have done something better, something different or something obvious. Yet, we were not in that situation with all those factors weighing on us. And, we didn’t HAVE to make a decision.
There are no quick fixes or easy answers in life. People are difficult. Life is messy. And situations are never the same. Then factor in alternative facts, propaganda and emotion just to complicate things even more.
Just because you think you might do something in one situation, doesn’t mean it’s the only way to solve a problem. Just because you are offended by something, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s logical.
I was thinking all of these things, pouring over my life, world events and all the whys. I was trying to see the world differently. Then, I watched a movie (The Shack) that put these thoughts into more perspective.
In the movie, a father takes a spiritual journey after the loss of his child. There were several thought-provoking moments of the movie that I really recommend watching. However, one of the more prominent moments for me was when the father is asked to decide which of his two remaining children will go to Heaven and which will go to Hell. Naturally, he struggles with this choice and eventually offers himself instead. Remind you of a Biblical story any?
Surrounding this part of the story is judgement and love. There is a line where the Holy Spirit tells the grieving father that man was not designed to judge others, yet we do it every day. We judge people by their clothes, jobs, talents, culture, religion, race, hair color, political party and so on. Every day we make judgements on people we have never met, never spoken to, never considered. We measure them against ourselves like we are some perfect role model that does no wrong. We expect them to look like us, be like us and respond like us. Yet, we never consider what it is like to be them, walk in their shoes, or deal with situations from their view point. But naturally, we must be right and they must be wrong.
When I combined these thoughts on judgement with the thoughts swirling in my head from class, it stopped me. It made the world even more complex and overwhelming to me. How can we ever hope for world peace when the human race is too busy judging each other? How can we solve real issues when we don’t typically use critical thinking skills? How do we improve things in our world/Nation/state/county/neighborhood/home when we don’t want to change or consider others or include others’ thoughts? I didn’t know, and it felt overwhelming.
Then, I went home for a visit. While home, there was a good bit of tension. Without telling the situation (since it is not my story to tell), I will just say that my family circle had a series of events to deal with: a tragedy, a mistake and a decision.
While dealing with a devastating tragedy, a family member made a mistake and now that person and others around them were forced to deal with it. The path they chose was not typical, and it upset some people. So much that it created division. People chose sides, built camps and stopped talking. Anger and resentment and hurt were working hard into the hearts of loved ones.
I had my thoughts on the situation of course. Would I have put up with this? Would I have done something different? Immediately, I thought yes. There is no way I would have done XYZ! But then I stopped. I stopped judging, and started loving. I started to think of what it must be like to be in that series of events. I thought about the third- and fourth-order effects behind the possible decisions. I thought about what my anger may have been if I were in the place of those family members. I thought about what my anger was in my current place. I considered WHY I felt the way I did…and then I expressed those thoughts to my loved ones.
It was a difficult talk. I was filled with my own emotion and they were filled with theirs. I explained my view points and concerns and they explained theirs. I heard their emotion. I felt a taste of their pain. I could see the difficult choices they had before them. Would I have chosen differently? Frankly, I don’t know. Everyone is different, so maybe. But really, who am I to judge how someone lives their life? Who am I to rate how they responded to the situations?
I may not have to agree with the choices made, but it doesn’t really matter. What was important for me to realize was that my only part in this mess was to decide on one thing – did I still love my family members or not? Of course I did. So, if I loved them and stopped judging them, all I needed to do was support them.
That didn’t mean I held a parade praising the things I didn’t like. It didn’t mean I embraced the factors I was concerned about. But my opinion on their life was irrelevant. All I needed to do was help them, love them and offer an ear. I didn’t need to write them off and out of my life just because they were dealing with some unorthodox situation. I didn’t need to stop talking to them because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t need to be mean to them because I would have chosen some holier-than-thou option. I just needed to love them.
I suppose the moral of the story is that my journey has brought me to a conclusion. We may not be able to solve the world’s problems, nor can we always solve the ones near home. However, if we start with our own hearts and homes, we can make a difference. We can start a ripple of love. We can stop judging and start loving. We can stop assuming we are better, faster and stronger than everyone else and use critical thinking skills to work on issues. We can move past our biases and preferences to really think about a situation before we speak on it. We can do some homework and research and gather real facts before we spout of hate and judgement on a topic or person or situation. We can stop grouping individuals as all the same.
I know that is all easier said than done, and the world will probably just continue on its angry divided judgmental path. However, I do have the choice to be different. I have the choice to not be a part of the negative. I have the choice to make a difference in my part of the world, and I choose to be fair and loving. I choose to dig deep and think things out, weighing the options. I choose to not judge. I choose to try to be a better person and hopefully, that will make a difference. And, if we all do the same, that ripple could spread. And maybe, just maybe, together we can make a bigger difference.
May God grant you with wisdom and patience as you move through life. Just don’t forget to love in the struggle. ~ Nato