I’m generally a pretty tactful, harmonious person. I don’t like conflict. I’d often rather avoid issues than letting them out into the open.
To a degree, this is helpful. Agreeableness is a positive quality, and no one wants to be friends with the person who is always stirring the pot.
On the other hand, in our culture today we are perhaps swaying too far to the “agreeable” side of things. Whether it’s political correctness to a fault or just the inability to face our problems and deal with them (and verbalize them), we are suffering by stifling ourselves and others. We’re afraid of cutting with our words (even if we are nice about it), and we are afraid of ourselves being cut by someone else’s words. And it’s a problem, one that affects our relationships and our mental and emotional health.
Here’s what I mean.
What makes a real relationship? Intimacy, right? You feel close, you can tell them anything, they can tell you anything. To varying degrees with different people, we are more or less intimate. This intimacy is important to our psychological health and security. If we don’t have intimacy, we won’t have security. Without security, depression, anxiety, and other mental issues are right around the corner.
When we are walking on eggshells to be politically correct or to avoid conflict, we can’t really be ourselves. We can’t let ourselves be seen for fear of the rejection or resentment or turmoil or whatever. We can’t really have intimacy with one another. Hopefully, we have those people we are close to such that we don’t have to worry about offense or the like. And I’m not saying we should be totally open and without filter in front of everyone (that would be the opposite extreme perhaps). But what happens when this widespread hiddenness makes it hard to have deep relationships altogether? What if it finds its way into our personal lives?
Even if it doesn’t, we are still at times missing out in our day to day or public interactions. We can’t speak our minds. We are too afraid to offend, even if our ideas might actually be the right ideas. Therefore, we can’t contribute freely to the idea pool, have our ideas critiqued, or critique the ideas that do get shared (the ideas which are often just in line with what is already “mainstream” or agreed upon). Then, society becomes an echo chamber devoid of real, challenging and fruitful discussion. We, the society members, become phony, or at least narrow-minded.
Why have we come to this? Perhaps a variety of reasons. Internet culture has allowed us to hide behind screens and miss out on real intimacy, even when we are sharing deep or profound or important ideas. It has made nuance difficult in some ways and has allowed for easy and powerful misunderstanding, especially as the information-givers often frame the given information in ways that are meant to play on emotions without deeper consideration of truth and meaning.
As our technological culture has advanced, relationships have suffered, and we have been perhaps less emotionally secure as a result. We have relationships online – ones that give us a false sense of connection, but don’t give the real security that true face to face relationships do. Thus we can become “triggered” quite easily, and so avoid the things that trigger us. We then, keeping ourselves “safe”, become weaker and weaker. We hate offense more and more – we hate the idea of being cut by someone else’s opinions, and become less and less open to them altogether. Thus, we are weak both mentally and emotionally and become more so over time.
But words must be allowed to cut us. Suffering in life is meant to make us stronger, much like a workout of the muscles, though tearing them at first, allows them to heal and grow. The same is with our minds and our hearts. If we can’t interact with ideas (good or bad, true or not true), and we can’t interact with those that we may not agree with, how can we ever grow stronger? How can we ever be truly “safe” from becoming an echo chamber of lies? How can we truly get along with each other even when we disagree? How can we learn to be nuanced and thorough, gracious yet bold, if we never even practice dialoguing?
While these ideas come in reflection on the recent political landscape, it is a much deeper problem in our society today – particularly Western and Canadian society. So my encouragement is that we become OK with speaking up, making ourselves heard, and allowing ourselves to be disagreed with and even offended. This doesn’t mean we disrespect each other – that is different than disagreeing. But if my words never cut, or if I never allow myself to be cut by words, how can I be myself or be experienced as my true self? How can I heal and grow strong?
Don’t be afraid to be bold. Don’t be afraid to get into a conversation that might scare you. John Eldridge encourages men in his book, Wild at Heart: “Let people feel the weight of who you are, then let them deal with it.” I think we would do well to let our weight out a bit more.
Get strong, friends.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
– Jesus Christ (emphasis mine)