In the grey zone

*warning: half baked moralizing to follow.*
“___ did what?!?! How could s/he....?!?”

Oh, the outrage. You can’t turn around with finding something or someone to be outraged about.

First off, I’m guilty.

Secondly, there actually is plenty to be genuinely upset about.

However, I don’t respond well to being yelled at. I don’t like the worst being assumed of me. I don’t appreciate being judged on the basis of very little information. And it’s probably fair to assume others feel the same way.

There are plenty of injustices and just plain bad practices in the world worthy of being remarked on. 

But quite possibly it will be more constructive if we stay calm, avoid insults, and try to understand the motivations behind the actions we are quick to denounce. I daresay we might find a bunch of teachable moments – for all of us.

So, I’m trying to learn to check my instinct for indignation. 
  • What is being reported and by whom? 
  • What other perspectives on this story might cast some different light on it? 
  • Why might this be unfolding in this way?

These questions slow to rush to condemn. They open a space for learning. They nurture the possibility of an exchange of humanity. Dare I say they plant a seed of peace?

There’s another component to the outrage that concerns me.

I notice it particularly with the #MeToo movement.

It’s the rush to vilify.

Perhaps one might argue it is the preponderance of misinterpreted nuance that resulted in the situations, but I think shades of grey are important because they are so unavoidable.

Abuse is wrong.

You’re responsible for your actions and if those actions took advantage of another person’s vulnerability for your own gain, that is a problem that should be identified and you should repent of it.

But even outright wrong behaviour doesn’t really set apart the perpetrators as a different class of human being.

We’ve all been selfish. We’ve all been so wrapped up in our own perspective, our own belief in the importance of meeting our own needs that we’ve trampled on someone else.

That doesn’t make it okay, but it does mean we all bear some shame, some blame.

What concerns me is when a situation of serial abuse is identified, we collectively react with outrage and scorn and ostracism. Doesn’t that turn the response into something resembling scapegoating? We heap all the shame on one trespasser, we identify all the sins with that person, and toss them out, hoping, believing, that the hurt and the pain will be if not expunged, at least ameliorated by the absence.

The trick of the scapegoating is to denounce is soundly enough that we absolve ourselves without having ever admitted we were guilty.

Quietly, we know we have all transgressed. Not like that, not so egregious, but quietly, secretly, we know we are all guilty of sins too. However, if this is how mistakes are treated, we dare not ever reveal, not even to ourselves, our wrongdoing.

I’m concerned that this approach that says people are either vile perpetrators of wrongdoing in whom there can be nothing of value, or else poor victims or their crusading allies, all perfectly innocent. If you’ve done wrong, you cannot have done good; if you’ve been wronged, you must only be good.

There’s so much wrong in the world, both in the systems and structures and in the human heart itself. I don’t think making a deeper chasm between black and white – nor shifting the goalposts to change the location of the dividing line between black and white – is going to be the answer to a better society, nor even a better you or me.

Perhaps the way of humility could prove more constructive.

Perhaps – without “going soft” on bad behaviour – we could call for repentance and consequences without also demanding banishment.

Perhaps if admitting our mistakes didn’t pay such a toll, we might be more ready to do so.

If it’s okay to confess the times we didn’t measure up, and even the times we hurt others badly, perhaps we will find the space to understand how truly hurtful it was, and to learn better ways for the future (instead of just how to avoid getting caught next time).

I don’t like to admit I’m wrong. I don’t like to say I’m sorry. But a profound truth about Jesus’ example that I have been meditating on is that his remarkable message was equal parts hope and love and justice for the oppressed AND repentance – and not just for the oppressors, but the oppressed as well!

Even as he saw, named, and touched the wounds of those whose experienced majored in oppression and marginalization, even as he offered his love and solidarity as solace, he also had a gentle, non-condemnatory message that “you also have done harm.” The victims were not wholly blameless and the abusers were not without merit.

We all have a persistent need to turn away from negative instincts to the way of love in big or small ways.

I used to think it sacrilegious to say there is a little bit of evil in any good and some good in any evil. It makes a fair bit of sense to me now. Somehow, though it is one of the key messages of Christianity – that we are all horribly capable and culpable of evil, we are also good and beautiful, and over all, thoroughly loved – we so very often take one or the other perspective, so rarely giving ourselves the break and others the grace to exist in that middle.

I want to try to live more in that grey zone.

*post undergoing tweaks from the original*


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