Thursday, December 12, 2013

We All Have a Choice to Make

I have recently been listening to some of my favorite bands in car rides to and from teaching, and I have stumbled across some lovely lyrics that tie in nicely with living nonviolently. I have recently been asked if I think mankind is inherently good or evil. I was asked once to give it a number on a one to ten scale: one means we are inherently pure evil and ten is pure good. This is a tough question for me because I can’t see how it would be one way or the other. We have a mixture of sorts within us. I know that I can flip in a matter of minutes from being completely self-centered to looking out for others’ interests. 

I have heard the Christian gospel countless times in my life, and I always heard an emphasis on our inherent evilness. We broke God’s good world and creation by going against his ways, and we needed a savior to come and save us from our wretchedness. Only lately have I thought more about the good in us. We have gone against God’s wishes and ways, yes, but we are also image bearers. We were still made in his image. We have goodness within us. 

So, I see it as both, and I think these lyrics from Switchfoot’s song “The War Inside” displays this tension beautifully: “Yeah, it's where the fight begins—Yeah, underneath the skin—Beneath these hopes and where we've been—Every fight comes from the fight within.” This to me sums up these internal struggles that so obviously make their way to the external world, into personal, national, and international relationships. We all battle this: which part of our self will prevail this minute, hour, day, lifetime.

Tenth Avenue North, another Christian band, sings this chorus in their song “Losing,” “This is love—this is hate—we all have a choice to make.” The entire song is beautifully crafted and convincing, but this line has special importance for this line of thought.  We will all experience these universal emotions, but we can choose what we do with this internal struggle. Too often have I heard people say that they feel hate for someone because of something the other person did. It is a choice to feel this way. This song always reminds me of this choice and gets me on the right track back toward realizing the ways in which I am failing to love the people who treat me well and those who do not. One of these words can define our entire existence, and people who choose hate are so clearly miserable because they chase after something that will never satisfy. Their hatred does much less toward the hated than the hater, so that’s the reason the lead singer says he is losing because he is choosing to judge and hate those around him. 

So, I listen to this song and think, okay I need to be better at loving the people around me, but how? How can I daily put them first? How can I unselfishly listen and serve? Well, there are obviously many answers to this question, and it is something that we will forever wrestle with: how can I be better today than I was yesterday? The thing I want to focus on is being a better listener. I know that listening helps me love better. This song, “Listen Up” by Brandon Heath displays such a beautiful kind of listening:

"Listen Up"
Why are you crying
Did I say something wrong
Were'nt we just talking
Tell me whats going on

Cause I'm pretty sure my intentions
Were nothing more than conversation
Maybe you just needed someone
To listen to your heart

Maybe I spoke too soon
Maybe I said too much
Now that my face is blue
Think it's time I listen up
I've already said enough

Sometimes I do this
Thing is I'm so afraid
When it get's quiet
What you might have to say

Cause I'm guilty of
I'm lost in my
Own translation
I apologize, I know I
Should listen to your heart

I often listen to the entire album this song is on from beginning to end, and when I get to this song, I tend to get kind of emotional. I’m not really sure why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I know how important this is in relationship. We need to listen, really listen and try to understand what other people are going through; this is how we can help them fight the war within. This is how we can fight our own wars. Understanding leads to compassion, compassion to love. 

In his book Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh writes about “Real Love” in a brief chapter. He encourages people to ask this of the one they love: “Darling, do I understand you enough? Or am I making you suffer? Please tell me so that I can learn to love you properly. I don’t want to make you suffer, and if I do so because of my ignorance, please tell me so that I can love you better, so that you can be happy” (80). He says that we need courage to ask these tough questions, but asking them and listening for the answer can make love between people deeper and stronger.

As Thich Nhat Hanh points out, “There are many kinds of seeds in us, both good and bad. Some were planted during our lifetime, and some were transmitted by our parents, our ancestors, and our society” (74). So, I still could not assign a number to how good or evil we naturally are on a scale of one to ten, but I know we can choose what to do with these seeds, will we let the anger and hate fester and grow? Or will we deal with these seeds for what they are and let them make us more compassionate, more understanding, more loving? 

Recently, my boyfriend and I were talking about someone we know, and I said “hopefully we will see some drama!” He replied, “Well don’t pray too hard for it.” And I knew this comment had revealed a bad seed in me: wishing for someone else’s hardships for my own amusement. So, I was quiet for a little while until I built up the courage to say, “I should not have said that. I really did mean it though. I really need to deal with my feelings toward this person. I guess it was good that I said it because now I know how deep seeded they are.” It took courage for him to convict me about this, and it took courage for me to admit this obvious downfall in myself, but it wasn’t until I had to admit it to myself through talking with him that I really saw it for what it was. And it wasn’t until then that I could start the journey toward compassion for this person. When I saw this downfall in myself, I recognized the war within, and I could consciously make a choice to love. I love these songs because they help me fight the war within. They help me live better. 

Switchfoot’s “The War Inside”:
Tenth Avenue North’s “Losing”:
Brandon Heath’s “Listen Up”:

Jodi Moore
Guest Blogger

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