Recently a friend on social media posted a question that got me thinking. She essentially asked how one balances standing up for their beliefs by speaking out on important issues while at the same time not getting caught up in all of the dumpster fire that is social media.
My initial reaction was: I’ve been trying to figure that out for years.
And honestly, for about two years, I really didn’t speak out much on anything. I kept most of my opinions to myself and I stayed silent on issues that I actually did believe were important. It was as if my tongue was tied and I could not speak. So many times I wanted to speak. I wanted to scream something from the rooftops for anyone to listen to me, but I couldn’t. I had nearly constant anxiety and this unbelievably overbearing fear of being wrong for months on end. For somebody who believed just a few months prior that they had the world all figured out, this was an interesting, yet absolutely horrific new way of feeling. Don’t get me wrong—I always had a fear of being wrong and an even bigger fear of failure—but I had never experienced feeling so very inadequate or underqualified to speak.
This was all because I had finally figured out how little I truly knew. My ego had been viciously wounded by reality and I had to allow so much of me to die, that I felt totally lost. (You can read some of my ego death here.)
All of this was quite the recipe for keeping my mouth shut.
And maybe it is something to recognize how little we know? In fact, Jesus begins His Sermon on the Mount with the statement:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
If that is what He chose to start with when teaching those thirsting for truth, maybe there is more to this idea than we would like to admit? I mean, afterall, who wants to be poor, lowly, and humble? We like to claim that we do, but when it comes right down to it, this is one of the most difficult things that most of us will ever do. Setting aside pride, ego, and self-importance is a battle that we will need to confront over and over as we progress through this life.
They don’t call the process an “ego-death” for nothing.
It feels like dying.
Over and over again.
Thinking further on the question that my friend posed, I had a second reaction: Check your heart.
I still recognize that I don’t know hardly anything about anything. But one thing I do know is that so much of this life really depends upon the spirit in which we do things. It is the spirit in which we speak, the spirit in which we act, and the spirit in which we relate to other people.
Where is our heart?
While I openly admit I don’t have all of the answers, after a few years of struggle and growth, I have learned a few things that seem to work for me when it comes to knowing when to speak and when to stay silent. These things can come in handy when I am deciding whether to write a post, share a meme, write an article online, or whether to speak up in regular in-person conversation. They especially come in handy when I am confronted with mean or argumentative comments. (Because we all enjoy those, don’t we?) They have taught me how and when to speak up again. So maybe the things I have learned that have helped me to pause, breathe, and evaluate what I am doing will be helpful to you as well.
The first thing I do is I check my heart. Yes, I stole this phrase from the comedian John Crist, and I don’t regret it! What do I mean by this? When I am checking my heart I ask myself if my heart is at war or at peace.
The state of our hearts, as I said earlier, will affect everything we do. People truly can feel the spirit in which you are operating. They can sense your mode of being. Like Maya Angelou and others have said “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Yes, words matter, but when we are operating from a heart of peace instead of a heart at war, the right words tend to come out of our mouths. There will always be errors in communication, especially via social media and text formats, but when we are starting the process from a heart filled with love in the first place, those mishaps are far less likely to happen.
According to the philosopher Martin Buber, we all function with other people and things in one of two modes of being. The first we call I-It Relationship. I-It Relationship is a state of being where we see others as objects. These objects can be obstacles, vehicles, or irrelevancies. They can be useful in getting us what we want, they can stand in our way, or they mean absolutely nothing to us whatsoever. You don’t view them as a whole person, but rather as the role that they are playing in relationship to yourself. This role is obviously not equal in value to yourself. In this mode of operation, you are full of pride.
The second state of being is known as I-Thou Relationship. I-Thou Relationship is where you treat others as whole people who are worthy of your time, effort, and love. You understand that they have their own experiences, feelings, beliefs, dreams, and hopes. You respect them. You see them as Divine beings and Children of God (I added this one into the mix). When you function in this way you do not view people as obstacles to be overcome, views to be shut down, enemies to be conquered, or tools to be used for your own purposes. They are as important as you are. You are empty of ego and act from a position of humility.
When our heart is at peace, we are in right relationship with others. We view the world and everything in it as Divine, of value, and worthy of our love and care.
When our heart is at war, we become aggressive, contentious, easily provoked, and proud. We are ready to fight anything and everything that challenges us.
So when I stop and check my heart, I ask myself, am I in a state of being that I can properly speak to this person, or post about this topic, and do so with love? When people feel love and respect coming from you, they are more prone to listen. They are more able to feel safe with you and open their heart to your words.
If my heart is at war, I am unqualified to speak in that moment. So, rather than post what I intended to post, I will take some time to see if I can re-center, ground, and bring my heart into a place where it is at peace. If I cannot do that, I am getting better at not posting anything at all.
The second thing I ask myself, and it ties into the first, is: Am I trying to make a difference or prove a point?
Every time I go to post something when my heart is at war, I am wanting to say it because I am trying to prove a point.
What’s the difference? Well, I am glad you asked.
Proving a point is great and all, but it rarely changes hearts and minds. You can scream and argue good points all day, but if you have not won over the heart of the person you are speaking with, you will never help them to change, grow, and develop. Once again, how have I made them feel? Making someone feel stupid, hardens their hearts. Rarely does it soften them.
When I am trying to make a difference, I am mindful of the whole person in front of me. I am mindful of the way I speak and the respect I show them. And I am mindful of the fact that sometimes not speaking is the best way to make that difference.
The third thing I ask myself is: Have I really tried to understand the opposite point of view?
I often see people make statements like “I can’t even understand how they can think that way.” Statements like this float around every echo chamber, political party, religion, and group. We all easily fall into groupthink and sometimes it can be extremely difficult to wrap our minds around how someone can see something so differently than we do. In my experience, I have found that this is often due to the fact that we actually do tend to stay in the groups that make us feel safe and rarely step outside of our comfort zone. We like to hang out with, follow, talk to, and learn from like-minded people. Most of us tend to create an echo-chamber whenever possible because it is comfortable. It is easier and more enjoyable to have our beliefs and ideas go unchallenged. We all like to feel like we have it all figured out and that we have it right. Social media, especially, provides this for us! We can unfollow, unfriend, report, or block anyone that triggers us in any way. We can cut out all of those “toxic” people that don’t think like we do. We don’t need any of that in our lives, right?
But what if, just what if, those people had something to teach us? What if we sincerely let down our walls and did everything possible to try to understand where others are coming from and why they believe the way they do? What if we were willing to research a topic while letting go of our preconceived notions? What if we were willing to set aside our egos for once and just hear them and act as if they might just know something that we need to learn?
We may not come to agree with them, but I can promise you that if you try this with an open heart, you will come to understand them better. You will begin to know how to talk to them in a way that is more respectful and loving. You will learn how to stop “othering” everybody that thinks differently than you do and your heart can put down its weapons of war.
I am in no way saying that you must put aside your beliefs and principles for those of someone else, but we can all do better at empathy. We can all do better at listening. We can all do better at loving. We can all take the opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes of another.
I believe that all of us, deep down, have a hope for peace, love, and reconciliation with our fellow men. This past year has shown us how polarizing things can get. It has shown us how many people feel unheard. It has shown us that there is a lot of work to do in order to bring us together.
But we can do it.
And it starts with us as individuals doing the things we can do to bring ourselves into a proper relationship with the world around us.
So, when it comes to the causes you take up, the things you post, and the way you interact with others, check your heart.