I have been concerned for some time about the level of emotional discourse in political discussion and the lack of respectful, rational interaction. This happens within the Church, especially in various blogs, within discussions of news items, and especially within political discourse with its highly polarized and highly emotional discussion. I often referred to Edwin Friedman’s Failure of Nerve in referring to it.
Recently I came across another book, written by a conservative economist (and at the time the president of a conservative economic think tank) who is deeply Catholic, but written in non-religious language (although he does refer to the Bible and clearly admit his religious position). This is a sociological, research-based work that is deeply rooted in the values of Jesus. I recommend it:
I have both the print and audio book; I love listening to the audio book, but to get the data I need the print book.
Because he is arguing for a dropping of motive attribution asymmetry (the other group is evil and my group has good motives), which is surely a form of judgment, and moving to an approach of love (seeking the good of the other), I was reminded of St Seraphim of Sarov, who says in one of this teachings:
On Preserving Peace of Soul (#12 in Life and Teaching, #25 in Little Russian Philokalia)
“It is necessary to try by all means to preserve peace of soul and not to become indignant because of insults. For this one needs to restrain oneself from anger and to pay heed to guard the mind and the heart against improper doubts.
“One should endure insults indifferently and should train oneself to treat them as if they do not concern one.
“This exercise can set our heart at peace and make it a dwelling of God Himself.
“We find an example of such mildness in the life of Saint Gregory the Wonderworker. A whore demanded publicly a recompense from him stating that he sinned with her. He was not in the least angry with her, but said meekly to one of his friends: ‘give her what she asks without delay.’ When the woman received the money she was attacked by a demon. The Saint however drove the demon out from her by prayer. (Lives of the Saints, 17th November).
“In case it should be impossible to restrain oneself from becoming indignant, it is necessary at least to restrain one’s tongue, according to the words of the Psalmist: ‘I am so troubled that I cannot speak.’ (Ps. 76, 4).
“In this case we can follow the example of Saint Spiridon of Trimithunt and Saint Ephraim the Syrian. Saint Spiridon (Lives of the Saints, 12th December) treated an insult as follows: when he was summoned to come to the Byzantine Emperor, as he was entering the palace, one of the servants who were in the palace thought him a beggar. The servant laughed at him, did not let him come to the emperor and he even hit Saint Spiridon on the cheek. The Saint, as he was mild, turned his other cheek to him, following the words of Christ (Math. 5,39).
“When Saint Ephraim the Syrian (Lives of the Saints, 28th January) was once fasting in the desert, he was deprived of his food in the following way: his disciple on his way broke the container. When the Saint saw his disciple, looking sad, he said: ‘Do not be upset, brother: if the food did not want to come to us, then we will go to it.’ And the Saint went to the broken vessel and sat down there and ate the rest of the food that he could scrape out of the vessel. Such was his mildness. And in regard to the way we can conquer our anger, we can learn from the life of Saint Paisius the Great (Lives of the Saints, 19th June). Saint Paisius asked Christ, when He appeared to him, to liberate him from anger. And the Saviour said to him: ‘if you want to conquer anger and rage all together, desire nothing, hate nobody and humiliate no one.’ In order to preserve peace of soul it is necessary to drive off despondency and try to have a joyful spirit, following the words of the wise Jesus Sirach: ‘I have driven off many sorrows as there is no use in them.’ (Eccl., 30, 25)
“Also it is necessary for the sake of peace of soul to avoid condemning others. The peace of soul is kept by lenience to others and by silence. When man is in such a state he receives Divine revelations.
“In order not to lapse into condemning others man should pay heed to himself, accept from no one the bad thoughts and be as dead to everything.
“It is necessary in favour of peace of soul to immerse in oneself often and to ask the question: ‘where am I?’
“Together with this, it is necessary to observe that the bodily senses, especially the sight, should serve the inner man and should not amuse and distract the soul with material objects. For only those receive the gifts of grace, who are busy with inner work and are watchful in regard of their souls.”
[Puretzki, Nicolas,of Sarov, Monastery. Life and Teaching of Saint Seraphim of Sarov. Serebrov Boeken. Kindle Edition.]
If in these polarized times when the parties in the Church, the political parties in the USA, and . . . well, you can name the groups . . . look like the Palestinian-Israeli tension (that comparison is from the person who popularized the term motive attribution asymmetry, which I heard of before reading Brook’s book), we can only expect similar results unless we and many others are part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Whether one comes from a monastic, a sociological, a family systems, or simply a Jesus point of view, it is worthwhile to think on these things, and then act.
St Seraphim is my current spiritual director (at a distance in time and culture) and he and Arthur Brooks, among others, have already challenged me to consider and in some cases revise my behavior, often by simply being silent.