I watched disagreements unfold online as an article I wrote for the Sexes column of The Atlantic was published. In an age where “Letters to the Editor” are a thing of times gone by for the most part, I stood back and marveled at the level of intensity and misunderstanding of my experience. Perhaps most enlightening was the plethora of misconception combined with high emotion – and the bent for the most negative perception possible.
The irony is they were doing exactly what I did (that was wrong) in the brief story in the article.
And they were oblivious.
Except for a few folks who clearly “got it.”
I was accused of multiple things, from being a shrew to anti-feminist to anti-Christian. None were true (at least I hope not!). What was the most interesting aspect of all of this for me was the simple fact that the comments did not bother me.
I felt sad for these folks who were hurling insults at me and then each other.
Why does this occur?
I mean, how blind are we to judge? Even Christ didn’t come to do that.
There were also some respectful and kind comments, even disagreeable ones where I learned a few things, but the majority of communication just made me sad.
Sad about how very little skill we have in this regard.
Sad about how prescriptive and assumptive we get when we perceive a button has been pushed – maybe even because sometimes were unknowingly looking for it in the first place – and then so quickly create more distance between people.
Just like my example in the beginning of the article, they made a lot of assumptions about me, as I had made about my husband – and it created an atmosphere of conflict.
Do you see how this applies to our marriages and families? It’s all the same stuff.
There are always extremists of the labels (and our own past experiences) that cloud an accurate perception of anything, really.
There are “Christian” cults out there that behave heinously, picketing funerals of children and soldiers, selling a message of judgment through hateful communication – they don’t speak for me.
Although I do follow Christ, claim He is God, and embrace the Trinity, and they say they do, too.
There are “complementarians” that say wives are to be a “shadow of their husbands” in order to “be his crown,” and by the way, quit your job, raise a slew of kids, and never cut your hair, and you should have no interests outside of your family. They don’t speak for me.
Although… I do choose to respect and submit to my husband and some of the other things some other “complementarians” say. Like love God, love your neighbor, to name just a few.
There are “egalitarians” who find oppression behind every statement in the same way some Christians find satan behind every doorknob. They don’t speak for me.
Although… I do agree that men and women are equal in the eyes of God and some of the other things some other “egalitarians” say, like love God, love your neighbor, and be friends with your husband… and that satan is real, as do they, respectively.
There are “feminists” and “male rights activists” that aggressively shove their opinions and their gender agenda down others’ throats. They don’t speak for me, either.
Although I believe all people should be treated with the same standard of equality, which they do, too.
The same construct can be applied to liberals, conservatives, and a plethora of other labels we’ve come up with as humans to try and define who we are in relationship with other people.
I don’t like labels, can you tell?
Within even the labels that I claim, there are extremes that do not define me. And I think that might be the case with most people – and it might even bring us together if we could focus on our similarities, instead of our differences.
I have friends that have radically different views of Scripture and God and Jesus than I do. We are in relationship and can discuss these things because neither of us judge each other. And for the record, I have friends in some of the “extremes” I mentioned above – and in relation to their faith, who am I to judge them? Who are you? While I may not follow their teachers, nor raise my kids in their doctrine, I can respect that there are theological differences and major in the majors, finding commonality between us, and discuss differences in a non-judgmental way.
As a communication professional, I also really do realize that we need to have ways of categorizing things.
But, perhaps if we spent more time focused on areas in which we agree, and gently and kindly worked our way through differences of opinion, that might change a few things.
Perhaps if, as believers, we focused more on Him and our own sin, growing in love and obedience to God, our relationship with Him would grow such that we can SEE people and events more like He does.
Multiple times the Bible tells us that Jesus had compassion on us.
What would disagreements be like if that were our prevailing emotion?
At great discussion in the 100+ comments section was my view on feminism and my husband’s attitude toward housework and whether or not he loved me. It should be noted that these things were not even really discussed in my article, but massive assumptions took flight. There were a few voices of reason, however, and my favorite was this, written by a man addressing a woman who assaulted both my and my husband’s character:
I’m not at all sure where you’re getting all that from this article. She actually said that he (1) had meant to do the dishes, but had fallen asleep, and (2) actually did help out around the house – especially after she decided to start respecting him instead of bossing him around (her words, not mine).
I clearly hit a few nerves, even though the article had been screened multiple times by multiple people to minimize doing just that.
For the record, my husband has always been my equal partner – matter of fact, he is a better cook than I am (although my baking skills are pretty boss) and he did the laundry for the first five years we were married. (And yes, if you are wondering, I still say Genesis shows God holds him accountable for our family, so there is hierarchy.) I cleaned. We actually had a conversation where we divided things up. When I went from full time work to part-time work, because not unlike many women in high profile, high stress jobs, I wanted to be the one raising my child instead of someone else – and working to acquire more things and the stress of the job itself did not, in my mind nor my husband’s, measure up to the opportunity of mothering our baby. Please know I am NOT saying that mothers who work are not mothering their babies – what I AM saying is that I was in love, (and in our case, we hadn’t more month at the end of the money) and couldn’t bear the thought of someone else being with our baby during most of his waking hours. I know I do not speak for all mothers. I issue no judgment, either, I’m just relaying my own experience.
So I went to part-time. When that happened, my husband and I agreed that it made more sense for me to pick up some of the household chores – simply because I was home. I am now limited due to disability, so we’ve had to make some adjustments and there are things that my husband does and he does them because we operate as a team and he loves me. Research also shows that regardless of employment status, women still manage most domestic duties – probably because we (generally speaking) care more about these things than most men.
Of particular interest also were the assumptions about my so-called views on feminism. Perhaps the grownups in the commenters’ lives talked about how great men were and respected both genders in everyday conversation, but for me, what I heard from the adults around me, television, and several of my teachers, was condemnation, disdain, and ridicule of men and boys – but not of girls. I heard that men had privileges that girls did not, and contempt was modeled for me. You would think that when I got married, I would have been smart enough to see my husband’s heart, but I clouded it with my inaccurate perceptions. I find this to be true with a whole host of women we deal with in ministry, also.
The only comment that actually bugged me a little was the one about the book and the ministry and how the article was actually a paid advertisement. The editors actually suggested I mention the book, which funds much of our ministry activities, and for which I volunteer 100% of my time.
But then again, sometimes what we look for, we find. Whether it is anti-this or that, or differences of opinion. Think half-full or half-empty cup. Our truth often lies in our own perceptions.
Dare you today and all days to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and even slower to become angry. (James 1:19) It’s great advice.
Double dog dare you to join me in giving people the benefit of the doubt and stop getting our exercise by jumping to conclusions.
So glad you are on the journey!
Love to you,
**This is a repost from Dec. 18, 2012**