Things seem to be getting worse.
Road rage, political anger, mass shootings, divorce, depression – all on the rise here in the US. It’s frightening to think about where things are headed.
It’s easy, sometimes down right entertaining to pass judgment on people who perpetrate all this bad stuff. We talk about how they’re ruining our country, ruining the future, making things difficult for everyone.
We, of course, have nothing to do with what’s unraveling in our culture. We’re the good people – we never rant on social media, belittle someone for their political views, or react with rudeness and disrespect when a lowly employee doesn’t respond as they should.
We always, in every way possible, spread kindness and peace, right?
Not me. While I’m trying hard to be the good in this world, I can’t seem to help being “the bad.” And here’s why.
This might be hard to accept at first, and will sound trite and sing-songy, but hang with me here – few can argue this truth.
It’s all about peace.
Peaceful people are more likely to be the good than people who’s lives are driven by fear, disappointment, impatience, and all the other traits of an un-peaceful life.
I see this in my kids all the time. When a sense of peace comes over them, their entire mood changes. They can be in the middle of a fight, but if I tell them something like “hey, let’s go watch TV,” the fight stops, they remember that they love their siblings, and I get a break for an hour.
It’s not TV that did it, it was the sense of peace that came from knowing something good’s coming.
Be the Good – Getting Rid of What’s in the Way
If we can’t manage to live a peaceful life, we can’t be the good person we expect everyone else to be. Ultimately, we’re going to have to learn to stop managing our stress, and start managing our peace.
While living with a sense of peace is something anyone can do, it’s extremely difficult in a culture that doesn’t value it. Few of us have peace-finding at the top of our to-do list.
The best way to find peace is to find the peace that’s already there. We’ve all got it, but it easily gets covered up. Us humans are hard-wired for peace – not only do we want it, it’s who we are. But, along the way, we take on hurts, humiliations, crushed dreams, betrayals and general letdowns that get in the way.
In other words, to be the good we expect in everyone else, we’re going to have to remove the barriers to it that we’ve been carrying for most of our lives.
In my career as a pastor, I’ve noticed 3 things that tend to get in the way as we attempt to live a good life.
Another word for this is shame, which is just as popular as all the unsavory things that it drives in our culture. Show me an angry person and I’ll show you someone who’s dealing with a mountain of shame; someone who can’t think about themselves without feeling horrible.
Some try to salve this with “accomplishment,” thinking, “If I can just achieve/procure X, I’ll feel good about myself. This is called conditional self-acceptance, and works when the planets align, but leads us to more shame when things don’t work out.
We expect the world to deliver, harboring high hopes for our careers, our relationships, our tech, our future, etc. When frustration and disappointment come along, we lose our minds, like a spoiled child.
When things don’t work out as we should, peace is nowhere to be found.
An out-of-shape body can never house a peaceful mind. Biologically speaking, exercise, diet, and regular, good sleep release “happy” chemicals, reduce stress, and help us cope when our shame or unmet expectations try to coerce us to give up our peace.
Fear of Emotional Pain
But exercise is difficult, and dieting is harder. Over-eating, over-boozing, and over-whatever-ing are our number one methods for dealing with life’s unsavory parts.
So we get addicted to comfort, addicted to food/booze, we binge watch, we do whatever we can to avoid the pain of facing our problems. We live in a culture that’s come to believe that comfort should be everyone’s #1 priority.
And it’s stealing our peace…
…and our ability to be the good people we expect everyone else to be.
About a year ago, I made a drastic change in how I respond to my temptations to forfeit peace.
I’m now at a point where I view these temptations as an opportunity. Instead of coming up with a 3 step plan, or implementing some kind of boring, repetitive, overly structured intentionality bazaar, I simply wait for temptation, and do the right thing.
Again, trite and sing-songy, but it works.
For example, when I’m tempted to judge somebody (driven by my sense of shame), I pray for them, or think about what their life story might be. I try to bring something positive that might supplant the negative.
It’s hard, and digs up a lot of the dirt that I’ve been carrying most of my life, but when I can manage it, it works.
Same thing with overeating/overdrinking. If I can hold off for 10 minutes, convince myself that I’m looking for something much deeper than food and alcohol, I end up with more peace than I did before I was tempted.
And more peace means a better life.
As weird as this might sound, I’ve come to view temptation as an opportunity, an invitation to deal with the bad parts of my life so I can be more free, happier, and far more likely to be the good.
Compassion for Not So Good People, and Ourselves
The bad that surrounds us, and the bad that we perpetrate is always a symptom of something deeper. If we could see it for what it really is, we’d be heartbroken at how many of our comrades are hurting.
Maybe we’d be so heartbroken that we’d want to step in and help, instead of judging, finger pointing, and doing all the other stuff we think others shouldn’t be doing.
But our culture of high expectations, self-loathing, poor health, and love of comfort doesn’t do help, we don’t do compassion. It’s too hard. It requires too much.
It’s easier to convince ourselves that we’re being the good.
We need to come to grips with how our culture is running our lives, and the places where we’ve buried our peace so deeply that we feel like it’s gone.
We need to implement simple, easy to follow strategies that allow our peace to begin running the show, so that we can stop being part of the problem, and start being part of the good.