I don’t get to read as much purely entertaining fiction as I’d like. They’re like dessert for me, so I don’t ingest them as much as the vegetables I end up reading and studying instead. But with our recent Fall Break trip to the mountains, I decided to treat myself by reading one of my favorite authors.
I read a book about a group of people taken hostage by a bank robber. (FYI: This was not a Grisham-like thriller. It was a charming and funny, character-driven story set in Sweden.) The basic idea was that these eight people with dissimilar personalities and established prejudices and heavy emotional baggage are thrown together in a traumatic situation, and they come out on the other side not as strangers, but as something more like family. They experience a potentially life-or-death situation, resulting in a new understanding of those people who lived in a different “universe” (though they all physically live in Sweden) than them.
I have been stewing over this story since I finished reading it a week ago. I keep thinking about if it’s really possible for a person’s entrenched perspective to change. Can years of hurt and misinformation actually move aside for a new view to form? What do we do with people we disagree with? Especially when it’s something we think is important and central to our entire moral code?
Dr. Christena Cleveland thoughtfully lays out the issues with division in her book Disunity in Christ where she devotes a lot of time discussing perspective divergence or what she calls the gold standard effect. “Basically, the gold standard effect leads us to believe that not only are we different from them, but we are also better than them…When we adopt a unique group identity and surround ourselves with similar ingroup members, we essentially create our own alternate universe in which we believe that the standards, ideals, and goals of our ingroup should become the new ‘normal’.” She explains that most of us like to live in homogenous worlds where all the people think and act and vote the same as us. And when our Gold Standard view is challenged, there is often hostility. (And when it’s challenged on social media…watch out! Sparks will fly!)
We’re living in period of heightened division, and as much as I’d like to think it will all clear up after November 3, I feel like these hurt feelings and angry comments will still be hanging over lots of relationships like a dark raincloud. Someone much smarter than me should suggest how to repair these divisions across our country, but in the meantime, I have a plea for those of us who are a part of the body of Christ.
Just like those fictional characters in the Swedish novel I read who survived a life-or-death situation and came out different people—realizing they were more alike than different—those of us who claim to be made new by the One who lived and died for us should be willing to love each other without hurting each other so frequently. Strangers, acquaintances, coworkers, friends and even those who worship at the same church are tearing into each other on social media because they don’t agree.
Here’s my advice, the next time you begin to type a comment which tears down the person who posted it have a conversation with yourself. Maybe it can go a little something like this: “Wait…Is this comment I’ve formed in my mind using my own Gold Standard going to punch this brother/sister in the gut? Is it a personal attack? Is there some motivation behind this person’s post which I’m unable to see? I was in a life-or-death hostage situation with this person and by the blood of Christ and God’s overwhelming mercy, we both barely made it out to the other side. If what I’m planning to say is really that important to me, I’ll call this brother/sister up and talk about it privately. Otherwise, I’ll move on. I realize that’s a lot more work than a hastily written 10-word comment displayed for all to see my brilliant assessment of recent political events, but I am not lazy. Looking to Christ’s example, I am a servant.”