They say the greatest gift of all is Love. Whitney sang it, Jesus said it. The Beatles thought you didn’t need anything else.
But I don’t agree. At least not entirely. What I think is the greatest gift of all can actually be the greatest act of Love that you can give anyone.
What is that gift?
I honestly believe that many of the world’s problems would disappear if more of us had a greater self awareness. Knowing and accepting what our weaknesses are for example, means we wouldn’t feel the need to diminish others for their strengths. Being honest in a conversation where we are holding a double standard would help prove productive and become less reactionary.
Of course, this all takes a lot of pain staking work and with an increased self awareness comes a greater sense of where our pain comes from. This isn’t exactly joyful work but the fruits can be incredible.
But not just for us. For everyone we come in contact with.
The Golden Rule
I heard a great example of a massive self awareness failure a few weeks ago on the radio that showed just how unproductive it can prove and ultimately where it can also help.
So I was listening to a debate on a particular topic on a radio show from back home a while ago. The topic isn’t really helpful so I won’t mention it. Then later I will mention why I’m not going to mention it.
But anyway, here I was listening to a pretty heated discussion where both sides were convinced they were right and the other were wrong.
This was the first problem. If you’re convinced you are right and the other person is wrong, where can you move from there? Nowhere. Now it’s fine to stick by what you firmly believe. But this wasn’t a debate about something where there is a clear moral right or wrong. It was about cultural identity and respect and being heard.
Basically both sides had good points and both sides had really terrible ones.
So already we’re able to tell that we can’t just stick our heels in. Or we can, but we need to be honest with ourselves that it doesn’t move anything forward. But again, that requires self awareness.
Anyway, as the discussion grew more hostile and the voices grew louder one of the participants told the other to “Just sit there, keep quiet and let me speak”.
It was an obvious attempt to belittle the other person and treat him like someone who is beneath him. It’s an obvious psychological, power tactic of those who want to feel superior to the “other”. It was pretty interesting in itself but what happened a few minutes later was much more interesting.
The discussion progressed without very much of said progress and as the second participant struggled to have his voice heard he stopped, shouted more or less the same exact words that he had had spoken to him a few minutes earlier.
“Just sit there, keep quiet and let me speak”.
Sounds fair right? The first person had had his say and now it was the turn of the second person to respond. But he wasn’t being allowed to. Was it an intentional attempt to belittle the first person, just like he had experience himself before? Maybe. But what is more important was the first person’s response.
He was pretty pissed off about it. He couldn’t believe he was being spoken to in this manner and made it very sure that he was not impressed.
He was operating with an almost zero level of self conscious because he couldn’t see that he was simply being spoken to in a manner he had used, just moments before.
Now, maybe this can act as a kind of self awareness test for all of us because if you can’t see the irony of this situation, perhaps you aren’t as self aware as you would like. At the very least this is an example of how we treat others but don’t like being treated in a similar way. Double standards even.
Today, some of us call this the “Golden Rule”. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Sometimes though, we just don’t see that we’re holding double standards.
Waking up to our collective slumber party
A high level of self awareness is also crucial in how we take part in groups and our role in those groups. Especially when it comes to our beliefs and where we stand on issues. Since the desire to belong is such a big part of human nature it makes sense that ultimately we’re going to fight for the beliefs we hold that characterize our membership of a group.
Take the Evangelical church for example. We hold to some very fundamental beliefs such as the physical resurrection of Jesus or the inerrancy of the Bible. Or belief in the existence of an eternal soul and holding onto these beliefs allows us to feel secure and part of something bigger.
“I know that everyone believes the same things as I do which gives me comfort.”
But what happens when you doubt or even worse, someone else begins to doubt those things? Begins to question how you read the Bible or even the very existence of God?
This is a threat to the group since that person or persons may begin to rock the boat and cause tension for the others in the group.
Suddenly the group isn’t a safe place anymore. Which results in hurt and pain as people are discarded from the group and told or made to feel that they can’t show up anymore. It doesn’t matter if it is intentional but as soon as we nullify the threat we can go back to functioning the way we were before.
Which is fine I guess, but ultimately creates a system where people don’t feel free to voice their concerns or doubts. The brave few who speak up aren’t trying to bring everything crashing as some in Leadership may assume, but are simply facing questions that are natural to everyone.
Then, if the system is grounded in finances or if your pay check is dependent on believing certain things then you’re going to remain tight lipped.
But ultimately, when we close down those ‘divisive’ voices that speak up against the status quo we do so from one of two places.
One is simply a lack of self awareness. We don’t realize we are closing these voices down because really they demonstrate our own doubts which we’re afraid of facing. If my beliefs are linked with a sense of belonging and someone comes along and threatens those beliefs and therefore my sense of belonging, I’m often going to shut that conversation down quickly.
The problem is, I may not even realize it.
The other place we speak from is far more devious and dangerous. It’s when we close down those voices and doubts because we know they have some legitimacy to them and we don’t want the control that we have to be threatened.
For example, I believe this is what is behind so much of the reaction to movements like “Black Lives Matter”. Some people are afraid of what BLM could mean to the control held my typically rich white Western men and so we come up with counter phrases like “All Lives Matter”.
It seems innocent enough and on the face of it, of course all lives matter. But, there are those who use these statement fully in the knowledge that they do have the control, that racism does exist and when things like BLM come along, it threatens that power. They genuinely may not hate black people, but they are willing to encourage a narrative that vilifies one race, in order to hold onto power.
So they are perfectly aware of what they are doing, but they exploit the fear that many hold on an unconscious level, that they are under threat.
When this is not the case at all.
Can Christianity help us all wake up?
So what is a Christian response here? I believe ultimately, it is our duty to stand up for injustice and to be the first to stop and ask, where is the fear residing in our own institutions? Donald Trump has come out with pretty incredible statements in the past couple of years. But many in the Evangelical world have turned a blind eye to them because of a deep fear that Islam or immigrants are threatening their way of being.
American Evangelicalism is unconscious to the realities of what Trump says about women or minorities because he claims to speak up for Western Biblical truths. And we are willing to ignore the more unpleasant parts because the alternative is the ‘erosion of Christianity’ in the USA.
But this is not good enough.
It is simply not enough to say, we should not judge but support our President.
It is simply not enough to say, let’s pray for Him and know that God is in control.
We can’t be unconscious to our own pain anymore, because the result is millions of Americans being hurt by a President who may or may not be fully conscious of how his own beliefs are leading him to operate.
This is why even women have given Trump a pass on his views on women. As a friend pointed out to me, when Trump called NFL players who do not stand for the national anthem, “son of a bitches”, he was calling their mothers bitches.
We need to face our own fears, to own them and then ask, are the things we’re afraid of really happening? When we see that they aren’t, we are then free to ask the harder questions, to love ourselves fully individually and as a group and then further ask,
Am I truly demonstrating Love and Peace to everyone?
When we do this, the answer may truly surprise us.