While some thought the work of pastors would decline during the COVID pandemic, most of my ministerial colleagues have found the opposite. For not only did we have to carry out most of the duties we had prior to the pandemic (i.e. leading worship, teaching classes, doing pastoral care, etc.) – we now had the additional challenge of figuring out how to do those things in new ways.
The increased workload was the primary reason I haven’t been blogging the past couple of months. The past two weeks, however, I’ve realized that I need to stop and prioritize the activities in which I engage. If I don’t, I will be pulled away from those things that feed my soul and spend the majority of time doing things that simply meet the demands of others. That is a surefire recipe for burn-out.
One of the things I most enjoy is the opportunity to write. And so, with that said, I’m back to blogging.
Today’s question comes from Yvette. She wrote: “So Pastor Craig, why do I feel guilty for pointing out the obvious and being a decent human being? I recently put someone in their place. While claiming to be a good human, they were not. Let’s just say it was “Mask” vs “No mask” debate. I pointed out the selfishness of this person, and yet I feel badly. Why?”
Your question raised at least two possibilities for me (and I know others will have different possibilities to add to my list as well). Let me lay out my two responses based upon my personal experience.
The first thing I’ve thought a LOT about the last several years is how we as Americans are increasingly losing our ability to differentiate between a person’s opinion/perspective and a person’s worth. If we disagree with someone on a topic, for instance, instead of focusing on the issue and sharing information – our heart starts pounding as we feel locked into a battle of life and death.
Once that dynamic kicks in, all bets are off. And increasingly the “winner” of the conversation is the person who is the most aggressive and dogmatic. You will note that those two qualities (“most aggressive and dogmatic”) are not affiliated with a particular political/social/theological position. Folks can be on the Right, Left, or Center and still strive to be the “most aggressive and dogmatic”.
The key to shifting away from this approach is to separate the issue (and information attached to the issue) from the participants’ self-worth.
Of course, every time I say this in the conversation about certain topics like masks there are some who say, “But I can’t separate the two because my position is absolutely right. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. So I MUST defend the facts and crush my opponent!”
I learned how dangerous that approach can be nearly 25 years ago when I worked as a health educator and outreach worker with the local health department during one of the last global pandemics: HIV/AIDS. In the 1980’s and 1990’s there were individuals who felt differently about what activities were okay/safe and which activities were not okay/unsafe.
Never once in my years working as a health educator and outreach worker did I change a person’s heart using facts alone – no matter how aggressively or loudly I argued. Instead, I learned that first I had to connect with the individual and communicate my honest concern about their well-being. Once I did that, I could begin to share the medical information that I felt was relevant. Once I did, I would step back from the information and give them time and space to respond.
I never succeeded if I judged or shamed the individual if – at the end of our conversation – they seemed wedded to a course of action that was medically risky. I worked hard to keep the channels of communication open so that after they had sat with the information, they could later return and ask follow up questions.
I was amazed at the miraculous changes in behavior and attitude I witnessed when I took this approach. Sadly, it is an approach that has become increasingly rare over the past few decades. So the first thing I would emphasize is moving away from a “win/lose” approach and tend to the relationship so people can then hear the information you want to share.
The second thing that was raised for me in Yvette’s question concerns something called codependence. As a person who has participated in Codependents Anonymous for over 10 years now, many of us suffer with separating our self-identity and self-worth from how others respond to us.
Codependents like myself, for instance, are prone to think they are okay if other people agree with them and seem to like them at the end of the conversation. Non-codependent people, on the other hand, are unable to feel good about themselves even if another person disagrees with them and expresses ill will toward them at the end of the conversation. In short, codependents feel responsible for taking care of others and CANNOT feel okay in the face of disagreement and tension.
Us codependents have really struggled in these polarized times when so many have adopted an “either your with me or against me” approach to life. They are regularly thrust into the position of either suppressing their ideas and simply pretending to agree with another just so they can get their “hit” (i.e. acceptance, agreement, or approval) from others.
If you are prone to codependence, the key lies to working on separating your identity and self-worth from external sources such as other people. Once you do that, you can walk away from a delicate conversation about masks and still feel okay – not only about yourself, but even the person with whom you disagree!
I am grateful that Yvette raised this question. For it touches on some of the most challenges issues of our time. I hope you will think about the question Yvette raised for yourself and share your ideas with others.
I look forward to reconnecting with you – my readers – soon. Please don’t hesitate to send in topics you would like me to engage.