my oldest daughter and i are reading the book Wonder. in it there is a teacher i like a lot who writes things on the board for the students to think or write about. the one i have basically embroidered into my parenting is “if you have the choice between being right or being kind, be kind.”
this is really pertinent as we try to raise these three beautiful girls who i believe in my heart of hearts were made by love and for love. i get the opportunity to mold sweet hearts and minds and to teach them how to dance to joan jett, take a photograph, bake a mean pound cake, make a 3 pointer on the little tykes basketball hoop and cry with someone who is hurting. but i am supposed to mold them, not break them. it has been my experience with recent events that those who are sticking to being right have done the most damage and those who have chosen to be kind have done the most good.
while in college i took a class called “belief and ethics after the holocaust.” the teacher came in shortly after the students, put his yarmulke on his head, whispered a short prayer and then greeted us warmly. this man changed my life because the 19 year old evangelical Christian who was sure there was a good answer for most things if i was able to learn them was changed into someone who had a deep (dare i say beautiful?) faith that saw people, hearts, and reality not as something to explain correctly, but as something to embrace and when possible heal.
any time i tried to take the easy way out of a difficult question he would ask me if i could give that answer in the face of a burning child or to a wife who watched her husband be brutally killed. initially this made me flat out uncomfortable but eventually i saw what he was trying to help me discover. the answer is not what they needed. explaining why this is happening in our country does not actually get us a step closer to healing. you need to honor the pain, by not trying to explain how it came to be or your best guess as to how to exit it, but by sitting with those hurting and letting them know they are not alone.
the largest book of any class i took in college was one of the 7 or 8 books for this class and it was a collection of writings, art, and music that came out of the holocaust. i honored the pain these people suffered by sitting with them and taking in their experience, listening to what it felt like to be that afraid, that hunted, and the paralyzing confusion that settles in when you realize the people who could stand up for you have chosen to remain seated. to sit with someone’s story and listen and learn and honor the struggle is one of life’s greatest gifts.
it is not just a gift to the “them” but a gift to you. when you are able to sit with someone who is, at best, limping through pain that is simultaneously overwhelming and deep you are saying “it matters”. you are reminding them that they are not alone in the fight and that you see them. the problem with explaining to someone in pain how they got into this mess is that they can’t hear you over the pain. they are not helped by your “rightness”. So you leave feeling puffed up and they leave feeling left alone in the struggle and justified in concluding that they are unseen.
look, i love to be right. after a 10th grade debate assignment my teacher told me to become a lawyer and never look back. what i have learned in my almost 40 years of life is that to sit alone and be right and affect no one, and bring no hope, comfort, or love is to lose. you can be right and lose. tame the tongue, sit with someone and listen. seek to understand instead of be understood.
if you are a Christian then i believe we shoot for two things: rejoice with those who rejoice. mourn with those who mourn. and for those who claim to live in him must walk as Jesus did. if you can labor to do these two things kindness will grow, hope will spring forth, and love will saturate the roots that hold us together. any time i discuss any controversial subject with my girls i open with one question: who has been made by God?
answer: everyone. let’s remember that as we talk today.