What Are We Fighting For? Part 6: There Is No Shortcut


I love a good shortcut.

If given a choice between slow, steady baby steps toward a goal and a speed-dive into one high pay-off moment of inspiration, I’ll go with the fast option every time. Wouldn’t you?! At some level, the “fast track” strategy works when I’m working a deadline or solving a short-term problem quickly.

When we embarked on this crazy Love Better project, there were all kinds of formulas out there that promised fast momentum. But what we know about love is that it’s not quick work. So we’re not going anywhere. We’re in this with you for the long haul.

When dealing with human beings, the efficiency we have come to expect in this digital age does not always serve us well.

This truth is never more evident than when parents are trying to raise decent human beings. We all want the formula that transforms a raging two-year-old into a sensible, compassionate human in three easy steps. Throughout our twenty-one years of parenting, Scott and I always waited and hoped for those profound, “aha” moments with our kids when we felt like we made a big impact.

Truth is, those big, profound moments were few and far between. Most of our days were about staying present and patient. The work was moment-by-moment, paying attention to what our kids were saying - and what they weren’t saying - and modeling what we hoped they would emulate. Day. After. Day. It was about the slow burn of “being there” over time. And, sure, sometimes it was about asking them to take their freaking dirty dishes on the twelve-inch journey from the sink to the dishwasher for the ten millionth time, in hopes they’d learn that it’s no one else’s job to clean up their messes. But there was no abbreviated path that would endow them with the wisdom they needed for navigating this complex world. There was (and still is) no “easy button” for the lessons only time and mistakes can teach them.

Not to invade Debbie Downer’s territory or anything, but shortcuts are equally useless when building a great marriage. Everyone wants the butterflies and fireworks of falling in love, but most “happily ever after” stories aren’t followed up with chapter after chapter detailing the daily work of keeping love alive for the next few decades.

When facing disagreements, so many couples fight…and fight…AND FIGHT…thinking one of these days all that yelling is finally going to pay off. Someday maybe they’ll yell it one more time and make that point stick. But let’s face it. If throwing the same strongly-worded arguments at the same problems year after year could fix couples’ relationships, the divorce rate wouldn’t be holding steady at 50 percent.

Loving better means adopting a long-range approach - an understanding of how long it takes to build trust and how quickly it can be broken (and how much longer still it takes to rebuild trust when we’ve blown it). Loving better means realizing the implications of saying hurtful things that people can’t unhear and choosing more thoughtful, proactive responses. After all, whether or not we realize it, we’re training a new generation how to love their families and neighbors in an increasingly volatile world.

If we really want loving homes and communities, we can’t be like the crazy-eyed boyfriend throwing crap out on the lawn and setting it on fire. (Literally or figuratively.) That’s kind of how Twitter and Facebook feels some days – dirty laundry strewn out on the lawn, insults and bashing, yet an absence of real connection or understanding. That’s exactly how to waste a lot of valuable credibility.

In any setting, fighting is a shortcut that actually creates more work for us because of all the collateral damage that happens when we aren’t considering the ramifications of our words and actions.

Hurt can’t be unfelt. It can only be healed and forgiven, which takes much more time and intentionality than being respectful in the first place.

There are so many different kinds of us sharing this planet! We each have a powerful sphere of influence through which we can patiently build a foundation of trust that grows stronger over time.

We’re here because of relationships… not in spite of them.

But unity doesn’t magically happen. It will only become a reality when we are consistently doing the slow work of staying present in each other’s lives, paying attention, and listening to what each other is and isn’t saying.

Changing how we function - at home, in our communities, and beyond - requires an evolving of our understanding and attitudes. At home, in faith communities or cross-culturally, trying to affect change through behavior control is a shortcut. Important steps are skipped when we have the audacity to comment on each other’s choices and behaviors without being willing to hear one another’s stories or understanding how our beliefs have grown out of our differing experiences.

Impacting the culture of our homes, communities and world is a marathon, not a sprint.

As we’ve focused on ways to not destroy each other here at Love Better, it’s important to understand that disagreement with someone (and even a Facebook comment or Twitter reply) has the potential to keep stirring up hate, or could be an amazing opportunity to step into a bigger, ongoing conversation that brings healing. Just as hurt has a ripple effect, so does healing.

So let’s tread gently and respectfully, realizing that we are all connected. When we hurt each other, we impede healing for the whole world. Let’s imagine how our presence in the world might foster empathy and understanding in our families, workplaces and communities. Perhaps even one frustrated kid in our life won’t think he needs a gun in his hands to be heard or noticed. Maybe communities and churches could more effectively walk alongside people through life if we took time learn each other’s stories. Maybe political discussions could ignite new ideas in a spirit of creative cooperation instead of getting gridlocked and insulting.

When we fall for the lie that our individual behaviors and attitudes don’t affect others, we add to the culture of polarization. Creating a change in the atmosphere of our world means acknowledging the reality that our attitudes and decisions do affect others profoundly. The ripple effect of hurting someone is more far-reaching than we might imagine.

Yes, it takes time to wade into the deep with one another. And, yes, the payoff is hard to measure in the short-term. For every “aha” moment in any relationship, there are so many more unremarkable moments when you simply showed up, listened, allowed yourself to see life from another perspective, and maybe even created a small shift in your own self-awareness.

There isn’t one entity or generation with a corner on all the answers to the problems of our day. It’s going to take cooperation between all kinds of us because no one can create a better world alone.

The only way we will set future generations up with a safer, kinder world is together. And, my friends, there is no shortcut for that.

Emily SutherlandComment