Saturday, January 14, 2012

Peace Month Daily Reader, day 14

January 14 – Peace
Ty Olson                                                                                                           

Read: Romans 12:14-18

            I grew up regularly hearing the “golden rule,” both in church and at home. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” my dear parents and wonderful Sunday school teachers reminded us dubious and often unruly youth. For years, I considered this the most important quote to live by—well, perhaps second only to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”—and sought to adhere to it as best I could in my relationships with family, friends and strangers. This said, more recently I have grown suspicious of this phrase, and ultimately what it purports. I wonder if it is insufficient. And I wonder if Jesus would agree. Let me explain.
            If I do to others what I want them to do to me, with good intentions I give a stranger on the street a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I would like to be given a PB & J if I was living on the street. However, what if they're allergic to peanuts? (Peanut allergies are often severe, even fatal.) My point here is that we must consider the perspective and needs of others before we act. Perhaps this is a silly illustration; nevertheless, it causes me to question if my good intentions here are good enough.
            Here's another scenario. One of my closest friends from high school is in the military. He attended West Point Army Academy, served some time in Iraq, and currently is in ranger training. We talk regularly. (Additionally, he was in my wedding and I was in his.) Often, our conversations lead to topics of war and peace. A year or so ago he was explaining to me why it is important that the US military stay in Iraq to help the Iraqis become a more stable and secure nation—establish a western style democracy and train their military. But is this what the Iraqis desire? Even if we would desire this type of support from them—even if this is what we would want done for us, is this what they want done for them?
            As a current graduate student in peace and conflict studies, lately I've been ruminating on how I approach interpersonal conflict. Often times I‘m prone to hastily give advice to folks, offering recommendations based on what would likely work for me. But the other person is not me. Recently, I've intentionally sought to take a different approach. In my experience, I believe that in working toward sustainable interpersonal peace we must, at the very least, try our best to understand the situation, perspective and needs of other folks (even though we never fully can). This requires authentic relationship, sincere listening and enough bravery to step outside of oneself.
            In light of this, I recently learned the concept of the “platinum rule.” Unlike the commonly quoted golden rule, the platinum rule is expressed in slightly different terms: “Treat others as they would have you treat them.” This seemingly minuscule alteration is significant, for it moves beyond relating to others from a sympathetic orientation to one focused on empathy. This platinum rule suggests that empathy is more important than sympathy in promoting peaceful relationships. Though the Bible does not overtly use the language of empathy, the Jesus I read about relates to people from a place of empathy—especially those in distress, in pain and who are outsiders.

What role does empathy play in my life?
How might I utilize it as a tool for peace?

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