My wife is a fan of the TV show "This is Us."
I sat through only a few episodes, with the same outcome: My wife would cry, I'd feel terrible, and we'd both reconsider watching the next week.
I watch TV to escape or be inspired. Peeling back layers of emotionally heavy insight isn't entertaining to me. I prefer watching Rocky battle back to defeat Ivan Drago. Or, Maverick and Iceman coming together to stave off an attack on our country. I'll even welcome Happy defeating Shooter in the Tour Championship.
Good triumphant over evil. The underdog who perseveres and achieves. Who I long to be or who I am on my best day - those stories I'll watch.
On 9/11, our family walked and talked about remembering. We told stories of where we were when it happened. We remembered our country coming together, unified. Most people looked beyond any differences they had with policy and supported our president.
Stories of compassion and sacrifice were rampant. Empathy was tangible and did not need to be manufactured. Unlike today, our current troubles dividing and dissecting us into fractions and factions of ourselves.
Perhaps it's the common enemy. After 9/11/01, there was a clear, common enemy. It was "them." They attacked "us."
Today, the common enemy is, well, it's "us," defined differently by who you ask and witnessed only in yard signs and social media posts.
There is nothing more unifying than a common enemy. It's what brings us together. Is that what it takes?
We talk about this often within my team at work. We notice our tendency to seek a common enemy amongst ourselves. We can fall into the ditch of coming together by identifying a "them" within us and aligning our frustrations in their direction. We combat this by asking ourselves why this is necessary and reminding ourselves we don't need a common enemy to foster energy and motivation.
When tensions rise, we instead ask, "what's my part?" We consider the following questions proposed in the book "Crucial Conversations": "What is my part of the problem that I am pretending not to notice?" Because we always carry a part, always own a piece of the problem.
Perhaps we are just scared to death of death. Scared to feel? Too scarred to feel? It's why I don't really want to watch "This is Us"; I suppose, truths hitting too close, the revealing of my part, the peeling and the feeling.
Maybe it's our own fear that drives us to define a "them." Instead of respectfully disagreeing and thoughtfully discussing, we shape those differences into defining a "them" among "us," targeting an enemy. The kneelers. The standers. The maskers. The anti-maskers. The rich. The poor. The Republicans. The Democrats.
Divide. Dissect. Target. Aim.
We take our fear, insecurities and our frustrations and mold them into weapons of anger and spew the vile. All while being affirmed through the clicked "likes" and "loves" of those numbing their feelings in the same way. This is us.
There is another way. But, we have to change. Rocky did, right? And Drago killed his best friend. Through the film, you see Rocky begin to own his part. "During this fight, I've seen a log of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that's better than 20 million. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!"
When we recognize that we have a part in what's gone wrong, healthy guilt can help us change. Author Brene Brown writes, "While shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders and bullying, guilt is negatively correlated with these outcomes. Empathy and values live in the contours of guilt, which is why it’s a powerful and socially adaptive emotion. When we apologize for something we’ve done, make amends, or change a behavior that doesn’t align with our values, guilt – not shame – is most often the driving force.”
We can change. This, also, is us.
Further, in her book "Dare to Lead," Brown positions the power of empathy as integral to effective leadership. "A brave leader is someone who says I see you. I hear you. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to keep listening and asking questions."
It's in seeing "them," hearing "them," listening to "them," and learning from "them" that we find true empathy. And empathy brings connection, which brings understanding foundational to change. We must become better.
Author and blogger Ann Voskamp illustrates this desire to see "them" in a prayer for her daughter when she writes, "May she be dead to all ladders and never go higher, only lower, to the lonely, the least and the longing her led of the Spirit to lead many to the cross that leads to the tomb wildly empty."
The secret we know is the common enemy is ourselves. Our failures, shame and regrets churning anger that percolates undetected until we don't even realize why we're so unhappy. We just know we're pissed off. And we assume it's because of "them."
I believe only Jesus changes that. Because it's only Jesus that truly changes me. I can tweak and tailor myself to become better through self-help lessons and life hacks, but only Jesus uproots the deep pride, selfishness and lack of empathy that makes me so disappointed in others. He intercepts the negativity and criticism I so easily sling at others by shaving back the shame that lies deep within me.
There is so much hope. For me, for us. It's soul-deep joy and perfect peace found in relentlessly pursuing the "other" with ridiculous grace, unmerited. Us imperfectly mirroring what He does. Christ within, this is us.
Matt Tuckey, @mtuckey, is a husband, dad, volunteer and business development director in that order. He writes for The Sentinel about the intersection of life and faith.
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