Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Loving People Who Are Completely Different Than Us

The Bible has Jesus saying "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Always good words to live by, though not always easy. While sitting in a coffee shop on Queen St. here in Kitchener last week, a man approached me and asked what I thought should be done with the guy who murdered close to 80 people - mostly youth - in Norway earlier in the week. After offering up that his actions of course were horrible and tragic, I stated my view against capital punishment. "Well, what if it was someone in your family who was killed?" asked the stranger. After thinking for just a second, I answered that I can't say how I'd react until I was in the situation, but it didn't take me long to know that as horrible as that would be to experience, I still wouldn't want the murderer put to death.

Just today I read in the Toronto Star about a woman in India who was blinded and scarred when someone threw acid onto her face. According to law, the man's punishment was to have acid put into his one eye (literally the eye-for-an-eye mentality at work). However, at the last minute the victim told the authorities to not carry out the punishment, showing mercy for the perpetrator.

What about us though? Perhaps we don't have "enemies" per se. But surely we have someone, or a few people in our lives who have wronged us, perhaps deeply. How can we learn to love them, and, heck, should we? My answer is yes. Resentment and anger does nothing to right any perceived or actual wrongs; what it does instead is it depletes our energy and puts a block up to our greater happiness and freedom. Forgiveness, which is an act of great love, does at least as much for us as it does for the person we feel has wronged us. Is it easy? No way. Sometimes it's the last thing we want to do. But it can be hugely beneficial. I'm a believer in therapy; important things can be accomplished with a professional counsellor. But I also think that perhaps one can talk and talk and talk and never get to the point of letting go of that bitterness and anger they hold inside. I've held anger before, for a long time. And it's not pretty. Now, does forgiving someone who has wronged us mean that all of a sudden we're calling them up every week or getting together for barbecues? Not necessarily. If that person is still a toxic presence in our lives and we can not be around them without them bringing us down with negative energy, then we may have to simply forgive them and let them go for now, or perhaps forever depending on the situation.

What if we have no enemies or anyone who has deeply wronged us? How about learning to love those people around us who are seemingly completely different than we are? It is easy for me to love people who are similar in personality to me or who are spiritually-minded and like classic Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart films, but what about the person who has bad hygiene, has never been to a church in their lifetime, and listens to techno music all day long? I like to think that I am a loving person and quite kind to everyone around me, but when I get honest, people who are so outwardly different from me are not people I tend to hang around, get to know, and in turn love. I like to think that I am a caring, sensitive guy, but then why do I avoid making eye contact with the homeless people on King St? These are things that I must work on if I want to claim to be a loving person. I can spend my whole life surrounded by people I am comfortable with, or I can reach out and be stretched in the process.

It's easy to love our best friends and our close family. It's another thing entirely to love our enemies or those with whom we have nothing in common.


Mark Andrew

"If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless." ~ Mahatma Gandhi