The Missing Piece in our Social Discourse

August 24, 2017

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8

“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our culture is in great need of reconciliation. The divisions between us just seem to grow larger and larger every day. Likewise, the Christian church is in need of reconciliation. The same cultural and political divisions which have wreaked havoc outside the church seem to have had a similar effect even within the church. And as long as we use social media to try and resolve it, we will only make it worse. You see, there is a huge missing piece in our social discourse these days, one that is critical to human relationships. However, this particular missing piece is, by design, missing from social media. In fact, its presence makes for horribly boring–even ineffective–communication in the realms of social media. That missing piece is humility.

In every genuine reconciliation, there is a point where both parties have softened their hearts enough to be able to begin seeing the issue through the other party’s eyes.  It happens to a person when he/she is humbly willing to admit to himself that maybe, just maybe, his/her perspective is not complete.  It is a moment of sudden clarity, when he/she understands (probably for the first time) that he/she has been a bit arrogant and self-centered.  This softening represents a profound shift in the relationship.  It is what makes reconciliation happen.  Without it, there can be some compromise, even some creative solutions, but there will be no genuine reconciliation.  There really must be a humble softening of hearts in order for them to be molded together again. It is all about humility.  It is an aspect of personal character that makes healthy relationships in our lives much more likely, and it is a quality sorely missing from a great deal of the rhetoric dividing our culture today.

Social media is certainly one of the culprits. It’s not that social media is evil. Not at all. It’s just that it naturally favors persuasive argument. We want that. We want to read/hear/watch compelling, intelligent, persuasive communication. That is the highest value in today’s media. Yes, higher than truth, higher than relational intelligence, and certainly higher than humility. Our media “heroes” all have that in common: intelligent, persuasive, articulate, and (if we’re honest with ourselves) no humility whatsoever. Humility, after all, doesn’t sell anything. And, given the costs of media, at the end of the day, it will always be about what sells.

But even when the discourse carries on outside of social media (or any other media), even when it moves into other spaces such as the office place or the home or the church, it still often lacks humility. But, in those cases, there is another reason for this missing piece. There is a double standard by which you and I live our lives.  It is a profoundly unfair standard, but it is part of the human condition.  You and I tend to judge ourselves based on what is in our heart, irrespective of our conduct; but we tend to judge others strictly by their conduct, irrespective of what is in their heart.  In other words, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, but not so much others.

For example: it doesn’t really bother me that I have not achieved many of the dreams I once had for myself, because I know I could have achieved them, if I had only tried harder.  That’s enough for me.  I know I could have achieved them.  But you might look at me and think otherwise.  All you know is what I have actually achieved.  While I judge myself based upon what I am capable of doing, you more likely would judge me based upon what I have done.

Do you see the double standard?  Because of this, it becomes difficult to think of you more highly than I think of myself.  I see myself as a winner.  I see you as…well, you get the picture.  The human condition itself operates against any form of humility or lowliness, at least in our interpersonal relationships with each other.  Our “flesh” is self-centered, selfish and arrogant.

And so, as the church, if we are to be any help at all to the cultural divisions killing our communities, we must find humility and lead with it in our own discourse.  We live in a culture that tends to define humility as being wiling to admit I may be wrong. The problem, of course, with that definition is that removes any sense of humility when I know I have the truth. As God’s people, we have access to the truth. Jesus did as well (more specifically, Jesus IS the truth), but he demonstrated uncommon humility even in his handling of truth. And so must we.

And from where does humility come?  I suppose there are two kinds: (1) the kind I can fabricate in myself, and (2) the kind which only the Spirit of God can produce in me.  I’ll save that distinction for another post.  For now, let me just leave you with a couple of questions.  First, which kind do you suppose is the most meaningful kind of humility?  And second, which kind of humility is most surprisingly lacking among us as Christ followers today?

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