Striving to be non-mean

anger's angst

One of my distinctions in religion is not liberal and conservative, but mean and non-mean. – Martin Marty

When someone is mean to you, it is way too easy to get locked into their mode of exchange – trading barb for barb. This is a particularly potent temptation in politics and religion, where the stakes seem so high. We shout at each other from different islands, each sure of our own stand and disparaging of the other.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson tell us that we are stuck in this frame, in part, because of the metaphors we use. We think of an argument as a form of war – where we parry and thrust and go in for the kill. Even the title to this post is just a shade away from ‘strife.’ In war, it is win or lose, and the cost of losing is your life – or at least your way of life. Lakoff and Johnson wonder what it might be like if, instead, we thought of argument as form of dance.

And Julia Cameron suggests that anger is a signal that someone has crossed your boundaries. It provides a map to our psychological ‘safe space’ and tells us when its threatened. When someone makes us angry, they have crossed a line. When we see someone who is angry – they have revealed a bit of the map of their lives.

I wonder, with Martin Marty, what it might be like if we could approach our disagreements as a opportunity to deepen understanding. What if we treated our arguments as research – an adventure into the unknown?

What if we could learn to be non-mean in the face of disagreement? What if we could learn to dance? We seem so far from that today. Could you possibly start the music for me and show me a few steps?

[photo by Jake Miller per cc 2.0]