Living in the Wilderness: Starving for Nuance on the Abortion Debate


Does anyone else believe that the subject of abortion is more nuanced than the broad generalizations that shout, you’re either a murderer or you hate women? Is anyone else tired of the name-calling, the black and white thinking, the social media posts and memes with the sole purpose of shaming, stoking the fire, throwing bigger stones? It appears that gracious, respectful, and honoring dialogue is rare these days, and I’m exhausted as I observe the battles on social media. I am starving for context and nuance in this discussion and yet terrified to start the conversation myself. I don’t have answers. I don’t stand firm in one camp and shoot arrows at the other. I don’t believe half the country are misogynists and the other half are baby killers. I’m afraid to write about my thoughts on this issue. I’m afraid because I don’t cling to one side or the other with an army of supporters to back me up in case of an attack. I’m afraid that no matter what I write, 50% of my friends and family will immediately see me as the enemy regardless of who they know me to be or what they’ve come to know of my heart. I’m afraid, and YET, I have a desire to bring a conversation forward that is void of hate and name-calling. Will you help me? Do you believe we can be respectful, vulnerable, brave, smart, and kind in our exchanges, giving grace to those we disagree with? Are we up for the challenge of leading with kindness? Please join me as I try!  We will do our best and ask the Lord to take care of the rest.

As I wrestle with this complex issue, please stick with me. Please understand that I’m a person seeking love and grace…to give it freely and receive it fully. Please know that I do not claim to be right or to know right or to live right. If I miss a perspective in this post, forgive me and please share your heart, your desires, your perceptions. I want to hear from you. I want to learn from you. I’m doing the best I can to listen to all viewpoints while building bridges between us versus burning them down. I’m doing my best to see both sides from a place of love and grace, so that I can embrace people regardless of our different postures and points of view. I have no desire to plant my feet in cement and scream at the crowd across from me for the rest of my life. There are many amazing, loving, smart, kind, giving people on all sides of this controversy, and I am broken as I watch us throw stones at each other from our glass houses. I don’t want to choose sides on every debate, but I do want to love all people well.

I have never seen good come out of vitriolic rhetoric, healing from hate, salvation from fear, grace from judgement. I truly believe humbly loving and serving one another is the path to restoration, love and healing, healthy community. As a fan of Jesus, I believe love is the path through confusion and darkness…the weapon that defeats the grip of hate. I believe in the redeeming power of love and I feel myself collapsing under the weight of cruel assumptions, bitter accusations, vicious words without an iota of loving consideration. I feel this burden regardless of the side serving the venom.  

My Reaction to the Pro-Choice Rhetoric:

When I hear or read pro-choice advocates claiming that pro-life/anti-abortion supporters don’t care about women’s rights, I wince. I struggle with the idea that someone attempting to protect what they believe is a vulnerable and voiceless human being is equivalent to not caring about women or women’s bodies. Caring about the outcome of a babies life and caring about women’s rights are not binary choices. We can and should care about both. If we see abuse of a newborn, we report it. We report it to protect the baby. We report abuse even with the understanding that the mom may lose her rights to parent that child. This does not make the reporter of suspected abuse hateful or sexist. If I’m someone who believes that the entity within a woman’s womb is a human life, then naturally, as another loving human being, I feel the need to protect that life. If I believe there is a body….a somebody inside a woman’s womb, then doesn’t it make sense that I should care to protect them both? That I shouldn’t weigh one’s worth over the other? That I should support them equally in their right to life? That I would choose to fight for both of them to live regardless of their age? If I believe personhood begins in the womb, then isn’t it imperative that I act as a voice for the voiceless and defend the defenseless, not because I don’t believe in a woman’s autonomy, but because I believe in protecting the unprotected?

It makes sense to me that people who believe a fetus is a life would advocate for birth and fight against abortion. They literally believe they’re saving lives, and in that case, “her body, her choice” doesn’t apply, because they believe there’s more than one body being discussed, and that one choice affects the lives of 2 people. With that being said, of course we can and should have the difficult and nuanced discussion around when the fetus becomes a life requiring protection. This is one of many questions that will have different answers, but different doesn’t mean that those on one side are appalling and those on the other have it all figured out.

My Reaction to the Pro-life Rhetoric:

When I hear or read pro-life/anti-abortion advocates calling pro-choice supporters murderers and baby killers, I cringe. I struggle with the idea that someone attempting to protect women’s rights and privacy due to their belief that the embryo or fetus is not a human being, is equivalent to hating or wanting to kill babies. I disavow the assumptions I see in reality-distorting memes suggesting that there are lots of women waiting until their 3rd trimester to abort a perfectly healthy baby. With abortion being more accessible in the first few weeks of pregnancy, and women understanding the pain, the fatigue, the erratic hormone shifts, the difficult and irreversible changes that happen to her body throughout pregnancy, I reject the notion that there are numerous women enduring all of that while they weigh the decision for 6+ months. I find these presumptions hurtful and harmful, not just to having a productive conversation, but to those dear women who have had to make impossible decisions late in their pregnancy, in the midst of the worst times of their lives. There are many men and women who love children and have, or plan to have children, who also support a woman’s right to choose because they do not believe that the embryo or fetus is a person. It seems clear to me that there aren’t millions of people who desire to execute babies, but rather millions of people who support a woman’s right to choose whether or not she will carry a group of tissue and cells inside her womb to the point of personhood. There are women who are healthy with a healthy embryo who choose to abort for a whole host of reasons (age, financial, mental health, physical environment, timing, hopes, fears, etc.) that are personal to them and their circle of support. There are reasons for abortion that I don’t understand or agree with, however if someone believes the potentiality for life is NOT equivalent to life, then naturally it follows that they would  believe they have the right to choose what to do with the entity inside their own body. It is also important to remember that this issue covers more complex scenarios. There are women who opt for a therapeutic abortion because their baby is not viable for life outside the womb. There are women who opt for abortion due to the irreparable damage of being raped or surviving incest. There are women who opt for abortion because their life is at risk. Regardless of the reason, again, it comes back to the nuanced discussion of when we believe the fetus becomes a person. If I believe the fetus is not an individual until a certain point in the pregnancy, then it makes sense for me to believe that a woman has the right to choose whether or not she will carry the embryo or fetus up until that point.

It is rarely appropriate OR helpful to paint with broad strokes, especially when discussing such a complex topic. There are so many women grieving the unthinkable loss of their baby who are retraumatized by the lack of grace and understanding that explodes onto social media every time there’s a hot button court case. It breaks my heart that so many women are thrust back into pain and shame without a chance to tell their story…without anyone even stopping to ask what their story is.

This dispute has always felt very grey to me, but I have always considered myself pro-life, with exceptions of rape, incest, and the mother’s life being at risk. However, when I was pregnant with my first-born, my eyes were opened to just how personal and murky this debate really is. My brother died in a tragic accident when I was 11 weeks pregnant with my son Isaac. The night before my 12 week prenatal appointment I was suffering from extreme anxiety and panic, as I feared there would be something horribly wrong with my baby, and I knew I could NOT survive another loss. My entire family gathered around my parent’s kitchen table and prayed for me and the life growing inside. After that terrifying appointment, I began to imagine what it would be like to be told that my baby wasn’t viable for life outside the womb, or that he didn’t have a heartbeat, or any number of horrible announcements from a doctor that change the trajectory of a pregnancy…change the trajectory of all the lives involved. Around this time, I received a prayer request for a woman who knowingly and courageously was giving birth to her stillborn baby. It was in that EXACT moment (reading this gut-wrenching prayer request) that I knew I could never live through laboring and delivering my dead son or expose my family to such trauma as we were still reeling with grief over the unexpected loss of my brother. I would never have recovered from this fate. If I had faced that horrible reality, I would have chosen a therapeutic abortion, as I truly believe that I couldn’t have endured the alternative at that time in my life. I would have opted for an abortion and I would have been thankful that it was an option. Contrary to many of the memes and hurtful mud-slinging I hear and see, I don’t believe that decision would’ve made me Godless, faithless, heartless, or a murderer. I believe most of us make decisions based on advanced medicine/science and the intimate knowledge of our own capacity to live with our choices, and doing so we can still walk faithfully with God through it all. It was this experience that gave me a more nuanced perspective than I had ever had before. It made me realize how our experiences so often drive what we’re willing to fight for and that maybe sharing our stories with each other could narrow the divide.

Rather than spreading hate from both sides, I truly believe we could introduce love to one another by taking the time to have a conversation and listen…really listen. Listen to the woman who has lived through rape. Listen to the woman who had an abortion and now wishes she had made another choice. Listen to the woman who labored and delivered her lifeless baby. Listen to the young girl who survived incest and is now carrying her father’s child. Listen to the woman who cannot have children and couldn’t fathom ever choosing not to. Listen to the family that lost their mom, their wife, their daughter, sister, aunt during childbirth. Listen to the mom who struggles to feed her 3 kids and now must make the hardest decision of her life. Listen to the woman who was harassed at Planned Parenthood when she went in for a therapeutic abortion because her very much wanted and loved baby was not viable for life outside the womb. Listen to the woman who chose to be a teenage mom. Listen to the woman who had the abortion when she was 14 and has no regrets. Listen to the couple living through IVF. Listen to the family that loves a child with disabilities. Listen to the fostered child. Listen to the adult who seeks therapy from the trauma of foster care. Listen to the adult who praises the blessings gained from foster care. Listen to the stories of miracles and the stories of loss, the stories of regret and the stories of gratitude. I can only imagine the countless ways this issue affects women and families and I can only imagine the overwhelm that comes with each decision. And, because I can only imagine, I’m thankful for those who have shared their stories with me. I believe it is these conversations that have landed me in a place where I no longer make assumptions about the kind of person you are or the heart that you have based on where you land on this issue.

Where I “Think” I Land

I believe all life has value and should be protected, but I will openly admit that I don’t know where I land on the timeline of a fetus becoming a life. I believe a woman’s body must be treated with honor and respect and if that is violated, she should have the right to proceed in whatever way is necessary to heal rather than perpetuate that trauma. I have always considered myself pro-life AND I believe that a woman should be able to receive a therapeutic abortion if she has been raped, the baby isn’t viable for life, or the mom’s life is at risk. I have always considered myself pro-life AND making abortion illegal concerns me because I don’t want women pursuing life-threatening options or ending up in jail for seeking an abortion as that defeats the entire purpose of advocating for life and family. I believe all life has worth and should be treated with love and respect  including those who disagree with me and/or those who’ve made choices I “think” I wouldn’t make. But, the truth is we have no idea what choice we would make until we’re in those shoes, breathing that air, crying those tears, screaming those prayers. I am thankful I never had to make that choice, but I do not stand in judgment of women who have.

What wakes me in the middle of the night is the thought that some people I love dearly will say that I’m anti-woman for these beliefs and some will say I’m an assassin of innocent life. I stand in the middle somewhere as I try to consider the nuances and it is a lonely place to stand. I don’t belong to a camp because I see good people in both camps, and because I see good people in both camps, none of the camps will have me. The world tells us that we have to plant our flag on one side and despise the other, be disgusted by the other, call the other godless, evil, ignorant, misogynist, and on and on. To Brene’ Brown’s point in Braving the Wilderness, I don’t want to connect with a group or bond with others because we hate the same people with equal intensity. I want to find my relevance in a group that is built on who we can love and how much we can love them. This middle ground, this desert, this wilderness is isolating and scary and I’m hoping that I will eventually bump into others who live here too. I hope that even if we disagree we can commune respectfully and thoughtfully with our hearts and arms wide open for a warm embrace. Brene’ wrote a chapter titled, “It’s Hard to Hate Close Up,” and this is why I believe sharing and listening to each other’s stories is so important in the quest to love each other better and create a space of belonging. I would like to be on this journey with you.    

As I continue to tell my story and listen to others, I want everyone to know that the God I serve loves all of us, regardless of the choices we’ve made. I want everyone to know that God is not up in heaven wagging his finger, shaking his head, and saying “shame on you!” I want every person to know that they are loved and worthy of that love. I hear God saying, “grace on you!” God’s love is the example I seek to follow and I pray that I will connect with others on the same journey for life-giving grace and unabashed love.

If you relate to these struggles I would love to hear from you! I believe we can speak hope and love into each other’s lives. As I mentioned earlier, if I’ve missed a perspective and you would like to share your story and your thoughts, I would also love to hear from you! I believe it’s the sharing of the history behind our narratives that can build bridges. If you think a more nuanced conversation is valuable, please share this so that we can continue a conversation void of hate and hurt and filled with grace and the desire to listen and love well!

A Lesson from my Letter to Mormons

Words Matter

After posting my blog, A Letter to Mormons, I received a comment from a woman who spoke to an issue I think many of us have struggled with on both sides of the fence. I want to bring attention to this quote because I have spent weeks sifting through its meaning and how it made me feel.

The woman wrote, “I live in Utah, where my husband and I have moved to dedicate our lives to sharing truth with Mormons and helping them out of their religious cult, which is exactly what it is.”

When I read this comment, my heart sank, blood rushed to my head, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I physically bristled. I immediately began imagining how hurtful this statement could be to the Mormons following the comments on my blog. The whole purpose of my letter was to connect with my Mormon neighbors and this divisive comment broke my heart. I will admit that I struggled with anger as I felt the need to defend all the open-hearted, courageous, loving Mormons who had poured their hearts out in their responses to me and trusted me enough to share their stories. After I processed my initial disappointment, I paused. I paused and considered all the times I had heard this term used in my circle of influence while growing up. It was not until this moment that I realized how damaging this 4-letter word could be. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never thought about the implications of this language until now. I had always assumed that Mormons knew what non-Mormons meant when they used the term “cult” and that any hurt feelings were due to a misunderstanding. Please forgive me for my short-sightedness. As I was reflecting I began to put myself in the shoes of my Mormon neighbors (and new friends, Praise God) and it brought me back to the many moments of name-calling, shaming, and embarrassment I’ve endured throughout my life when I didn’t fit someone’s mold. I began to realize how painful this must be to hear and how nasty it must sound even when the person using the word doesn’t have malicious intent.

First, I want to share (for better or worse) how this term was used in my world. I grew up in a non-denominational Christian household and I was taught that a cult was any faction of Christianity that adds to or changes the Holy Bible, or any religious group that dismisses or alters the main tenets of the Christian faith with unorthodox beliefs. If this is the theological definition and it’s taken at face value, then it explains why Mormonism (with its addition of The Book of Mormon) would be referred to as a cult by non-Mormons who practice the Christian faith and believe the Bible is the Word of God. So, I grew up believing that the term “cult” was a religious technicality that described why and how our faiths and belief systems are different, and although an important difference from my faith perspective, I had not considered all the inherent damage that could be caused from casually throwing this word around.

After some soul searching the last couple of months I’ve come to realize that even when non-Mormons believe this definition, refer to this definition, and use this definition to substantiate their desire to share their faith with Mormons, the issue is how this word makes people feel…what it does to a person’s heart. In our present day and age, the word “cult” goes beyond the theological definition and carries a much heavier and sinister connotation since the tragedies of the Jonestown massacre in 1978, the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, TX in 1993, the 1997 California Heaven’s Gate group suicide, and many others.

Words matter. Words can cut us to the bone and labels can destroy any chance of connection we may have with another person. Even if you are referring to the genuine theological definition please stop and consider how this word might make people feel. Consider what is heard when you use this label. When I hear the word “cult”, I picture darkness, fear, coercion, abduction, suicide, murder, death, loss, powerlessness, brain-washing, evil. If we are truly seeking to share the love of Jesus Christ with our Mormon neighbors, are these the words we want them hearing us use to describe them? Are these the words that open another’s heart to our faith story? Are these the words that build bridges and fuse connections? Are these the words that open the doors to vulnerability and whole-heartedness? Are these the words that ignite receptiveness and intrigue? Do these words break down walls and allow for authentic, loving, respectful dialogue?

If someone approaches me with a label that feels like name-calling, my defenses go up, my walls get higher, my heart closes shop and there is no longer room for relationship. I am not going to hear how you love me and care for me and want to share your heart with me after you’ve insinuated that I am dark, scary, and evil. Labeling is not helpful. Relationship is helpful. Breaking bread and fellowship are helpful. Lifting others up is helpful. Loving one another, sharing each other’s story, giving context to why we believe what we believe is helpful. Pointing fingers, calling names, using words that make others feel like they have to defend who they are and what they believe is not helpful…even when you have the best of intentions.

Regardless of technical definitions, the words we use to speak to one another or about one another often carry emotional meaning, which in turn causes emotional reactions. Regardless of why you choose to use a certain term, considering how your language affects a person’s heart is more important than driving home the point you are trying to make. The words you choose matter.

With all of this being said, I also had comments from readers that have experienced what they called a “kidnapping” of a loved one by the Mormon Church. I have not experienced this with the LDS community, but I want to share my story. There are churches of all faiths and denominations that have unfit representatives who use their church to abuse power and perpetuate sin. My great aunt was preyed upon by a “pastor” of an evangelical church in rural Oklahoma. She wasn’t able to have children, so he used the hole in her heart, the vulnerability, the pain to convince her to adopt him. He has parents, a wife and kids, a church and yet he is also an adopted son of my great aunt. She uses her life savings to pay for his expensive trips, his gorgeous house, and his kid’s college tuition. As soon as she began to show signs of forgetfulness, he moved her into a nursing home and wouldn’t let her leave. My family isn’t allowed to visit her because he is now her guardian and has requested that none of us be allowed into the nursing facility to see her. It has been a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, rage-inducing, grief-stricken process to watch and live. So, please let me say that if you’ve experienced something similar I can understand, truly understand, why you would look at the religion affiliated with that person or those people who tore your family apart and feel nothing but disgust, fear, and anger towards them. The challenges for me and for anyone who has experienced something comparable to this is to (1) refrain from judging the whole lot according to the actions of a few and (2) seek the heart of Jesus who is the only one with the grace to love and forgive all people under all circumstances.

If we do witness this sort of behavior in our faith communities, we must speak up. If there are people attending a church, any church, who begin to shun their family because they practice a different faith or if there are people being “ex-communicated” for their sin, their lack of faith, their decisions, their lifestyle, their humanness, then we are called by Jesus to call this out. Jesus was not exclusionary. Jesus did not say “love those who are like you” or “love those who live up to your moral standards” or “love those who attend the same church” or “love those who never show their sin.” Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31.

In summary, if we’re going to love like Jesus and proclaim a faith in a God who is Love then we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must be cautious and caring with our words, bold in our response to injustice, forgiving of those who have hurt us, and inclusive of all of God’s image bearers! When we share our faith and our truth and our beliefs, may we do so with words of love void of judgement, words of connection void of shame, words that build bridges instead of walls and words that embrace the hearts of others in the warmth of agape love. May we always speak our truth with kindness. Words matter!

Fasting “Great Anger”

I woke up the other morning and read President Trump’s tweet, “The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger.”

“Great anger.”

In that moment I couldn’t help but wonder if my heart would be better off if I allowed my sadness to be replaced with great anger.  If I could blame others, avoid accountability, point fingers, apply apathy, scream at people and ideas I didn’t agree with, defend myself at all costs and offend others with no remorse, would this be a healthier place for my heart? Would “great anger” be better than waking up in the middle of the night with a heavy weight on my chest and a soul that weeps over the discord in our country and the pain in this world? If I could be ruthless rather than repentant, indifferent versus engaged, judgmental instead of merciful, maybe the sadness would turn to vigorous fist pumps and powerful chest beating. After some reflecting I realized that “great anger” is the easy way, the world’s way, and the way that is absent of God’s love. Some nights I can’t sleep and too many mornings than I care to count, I wake up, scroll through my Twitter notifications and cry before I even roll out of bed. I have been so burdened by the polarization in our country, the cruelty and name-calling from people I typically respect, and the hypocrisy (from all sides) that is now magnified due to social media. I’m taxed by the anger I’m constantly shoving down or trying to “pray away” and even when the anger subsides the sadness takes its toll.

Why do I remain plugged in? Why do I continue to scroll? Why am I tuning into CNN and Fox News every day?

I’ve convinced myself that I need to invest time on these media and social outlets so that I can stay well-informed, understand both sides, and have an educated opinion. Recently though, I’ve come to realize that what I’m consuming is so polarizing that regardless of what I’m watching, reading, and/or hearing it’s coming from a place of anger, fear, bias, bitterness, defensiveness, offensiveness, prejudice and so on. These undercurrents are affecting my spirit. Although I do believe it’s important to keep my head out of the sand and get involved when there’s injustice, stand up for the oppressed,  and carry the burdens for others when the weight is too much, I have to find a better way.

I believe God can use me in powerful ways regardless of the news I watch or the social media I scour. I believe The Lord will guide my decisions and purify my thoughts if I turn my gaze towards Him and away from the self-serving perspectives of the world. If I believe this to be true, then why do I feel anxious when I consider deleting Twitter from my phone or abstaining from National news?

Do I fear I’ll miss the immediate opportunity to protest a great injustice? Do I fear someone else will learn something before I do? Do I fear I won’t have the ammunition necessary to make my next political point? Am I searching for others to validate my feelings? Will I miss the anonymity I enjoy when sharing my knee-jerk reactions on Twitter? Do I think my responses, retweets, comments are actually making a difference? Do I believe purging my emotions on the social landscape changes minds? Do I imagine my ability to affect positive change in the world around me will be lost if I can’t express my opinions to the world at a moment’s notice? Do I presume that my thoughts, my opinions, my advice will actually change someone’s position?

Gross!

It’s embarrassing to admit my answers to most of these questions. When I get real with myself about my motivations behind “keeping up,” I’m ashamed. Who do I think I am? My opinion doesn’t matter, but what my heart projects does. Even after I spend time in prayer, asking for God’s heart…His grace, His love, His perspective, as soon as I click those tempting icons on my phone I’m immediately pulled into the chaos and lose sight of His desires for the world. I bombard myself with animosity spewed from people I don’t agree with AND people I do.

The truth is that I can stay informed without delving into bias and partisanship. The truth is even when I consume information on both sides I’m still exposing myself to fanatical responses and antagonistic commentary. The truth is that I can lean in to the Lord and His will and become involved in my community in healthy ways without fighting every fight or making every injustice my calling. The truth is that I can give of myself without thinking that I have to save everyone or anyone for that matter. The truth is that I can continue to use social media to share love and inclusion without absorbing the disgust and anger that seems to be spreading like wildfire straight into my heart and mind.

I’ve decided to protect my heart more carefully. I want to be able to love the way God does…without qualifiers, without conditions, without expectations.

With depression lurking behind every click, I’ve decided I must change how I’m consuming news. I’ve decided to delete Twitter from my phone, stop notifications from Facebook, and fast from ALL major news outlets (specifically CNN and Fox News) for the next 30 days. I’m curious to see how my thought-life will change after I remove myself from the toxicity that is seeping from most news reports and social media reactions I see these days. While I fast, I will pour myself into causes I believe in, such as The Welcome to America Project (https://www.wtap.org/), and I will continue to seek new opportunities for providing hope to those who are hurting. I will seek out non-partisan news sources such as Reuters (www.reuters.com), ProPublica (https://www.propublica.org), AllSides (https://www.allsides.com), PolitiFact (www.politifact.com), FactCheck ( www.factcheck.org), and PBS (www.pbs.org). If I observe opinions instead of facts in the reporting, I will stop engaging with those news sources as well. My goal is to remove myself from limited perspectives and I cannot do this while I’m constantly soaking in the world’s bathtub! I believe I can be well-informed, lovingly active, persistently merciful and proactively thoughtful without the anger, sadness, and fear that is being so loudly projected.

My hopeful prayer is that by severing my constant connection from biased news and hateful rhetoric running rampant on social media, I will be freed from the sadness that has adhered itself to my heart this year. My hopeful prayer is that I will be moved to reach out with love and grace to all people, regardless of politics or religion and give of myself without bias or prejudice. My hopeful prayer is that I will consume facts (free of hate) and determine how to proceed from a place of love in response to those facts. My hopeful prayer is that my emotional health will be protected while I continue to restoratively engage with communities near and far in ways that spread the hope and love of God.

For those interested, I will share any shifts in my spirit worth mentioning.

Here we go:

 

Discovering Perspective

I’ve been obsessively listening to Pantsuit Politics, a thought-provoking podcast with two bright young female lawyers with different worldviews who respectfully (yes, respectfully) discuss politics. Their tagline is, “keep it nuanced y’all.” I love this because it reminds me to consider how many distinct ways a situation can be interpreted as we all witness the world around us with an individual set of lenses. I used to be someone who lived in a world with very little room for grey, but as I’ve grown both personally and professionally I’ve come to realize that there are different shades, different meanings, different degrees of understanding with every story told and every story heard. I feel a freedom when I’m able to disengage from the idea that everyone who doesn’t see the world as I see it has been misguided. Until today, I thought I had made great progress in my ability to step back from my firmly held beliefs and step into another’s shoes in an effort to cross the divides of dissimilarity.

This morning I was surprised to have a conversation about a news headline that I had no idea could even be nuanced. The story of the doctor dragged from the United Airlines flight came up in conversation and I honestly and ignorantly assumed everyone would be as disturbed by the images as I was. Maybe my naivete was based on the fact that it was a non-political story, but regardless of the reason, I mistakenly assumed everyone had been affected in the same way. As we began to discuss the incident I made it abundantly clear how disgusted I was with the policeman’s force and inability to de-escalate the situation. I asked incredulously, “what is wrong with people? Where is common decency?” It was at this point that my dear friend responded, “he was resisting.” It took me a moment to recover from this comment as I can honestly admit that I did not expect anyone to have a deviating perspective. I realize now how arrogant it was of me to assume everyone would see this situation (or any situation for that matter) as I did. As we travelled deeper into the conversation, it was additionally pointed out that the “fine print on airline tickets explicitly states that you may not actually get a seat on the flight,” and that the passenger “resisted and was belligerent with police” saying, “you will have to drag me off. I would rather be arrested,” AND that “he ran back onto the plane even after he was dragged off by security.” The longer these different angles were discussed, the more insistent I became that my view of the police officer’s short-sighted behavior was the correct view and that there was no other way of examining this situation than the way I already had. I dug my heels in. I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend how anyone could determine what had happened as fair or appropriate. The passenger was the victim and I couldn’t wrap my head around anyone arguing the contrary. Then my friend said something that hurled me over the empathy wall, where I could undoubtedly witness her landscape.

She said, “I guess I give the benefit of the doubt to law enforcement officers because my dad is a retired police detective and my husband was an air Marshall.”

Boom! Perspective bomb!

Once we said our goodbyes, I began internally berating myself and questioning my ability to see both sides. I had failed miserably at my devoted practice of denying the need to “be right!” I spent the rest of the day considering how many stories my friend must’ve heard about simple law enforcement situations escalating to dangerous, scary, life-threatening moments. I spent the rest of the day acknowledging how many times she must have worried about her father as he faced unknown scenarios and unknown personalities while putting his life at risk every day to keep people safe…people he didn’t even know. I spent the rest of the day imagining the times her father and her husband thought a moment was safer than it actually was and how everything can change in the blink of an eye. I spent the rest of the day admitting that I wasn’t as skilled as I had hoped at recognizing the delicate shadings in our individual interpretations of every piece of news we absorb…every narrative we discover.

Recognizing that there was an alternative way to hear and see this story didn’t change my mind about it being handled poorly, but it did help me conclude that our past experiences, our history, our environment, our culture, our family, and all that we’re acquainted with casts a filter on the lenses we wear every day to perceive our world. Having this open and honest conversation with my friend helped me grasp that we may never see the colorful world that lies beyond our familiarity until someone illuminated by a different world shares their vision, their tone, their saturation, their space their hue with us.

That night I texted my friend and apologized for the lack of understanding and for my insistence that I was right. I’ve always thought that I was open to seeing the “other side” but now I realize that there are times I don’t even realize there IS another side. I consider myself blessed to have friends in my life that will help me see the hill ahead and then guide me up and over to the other side for a fresh frame of reference. I am thankful for friends who aren’t afraid to disagree with what I’ve deemed “right.” Friends who love me enough and respect themselves enough to be vulnerable and authentic. Thank you to my friend (you know who you are) for being you even when we’re not aligned. You make my life increasingly more colorful and you make me a better person who continues to grow in shades and hues!