The grief police

Reeling from the triple bombings in Brussels yesterday, some of my friends have projected the colors of the Belgian flag or written pleas for prayers for Belgium. Others have taken it upon themselves to judge those expressions of shock and grief by saying that they are biased and thus, flawed. Citing the multiple loci of international terror, they search articles, the meme-o-sphere and blogosphere for graphics and pointed prose that aims to correct the presupposed racial and cultural bias.

Police

The trouble is, the presupposition is both erroneous and proud. And as such, it will be ignored or have the opposite effect than what was intended, because it will only annoy people.

Here’s why:

  1. Identification. If people see themselves as closer related to Belgians than Turks, Arabs or Africans, it’s because they are closer related. This is not bias, it’s ethnicity. And cultural affinity. If the pictures of the bloodied women in the Brussels subway connect to westerners more than those of women wearing hajibs or African women, it’s because that scene and those people look and dress like us. That will always be true. Turks, however, will naturally connect more with suffering people who look and dress like them. It’s not bias, it’s cultural and ethnic relationship.
  2. Historical affinity. The allies, America, Britain, Canada and others, fought and defeated the Nazis 72 years ago in Belgium. Belgium was a founding member of NATO. That matters, because the spirit of that alliance was that an attack on any of its members was an attack on them all. Turkey joined later which constitutes no second-class membership, but the link between the West and Turkey has never been like that among the European NATO members. No bias but affinity.
  3. Proximity. “If it can happen there, it can happen here” – said by Europeans or Americans – is more true referring to Belgium than to Africa or Turkey or other Middle Eastern states. Part of this is the nature of bordering nations in each case, part of it is form of governance another part is patterns of people movement. It may be inconvenient that the demographics of those practicing terror are Muslim and from Arab lands. And is tragic to use those demographics too loosely and ban all people whom they describe. Furthermore, I’m making no assumption that a terror incident in a nation that has lots of people who fit those traits is somehow less tragic or traumatic. But it is the case that terror done to nations further away has muffled implications compared to those closer. So, the outpouring is less. And those who would ban people movement to keep the problem away gain fuel. But for those who mourn, again, no bias, just proximity.

Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jesus spoke these words during his introduction – the beatitudes – to the Sermon on the Mount. The mourning is not only the common sorrow of loss but a deeper grief over the state of humankind. That kind of mourning cannot be practiced with bias, because it starts with my own sin and depravity. And really, I’m the only one I can let God work on. And I must surrender the conviction of wrongdoing to the Holy Spirit, who is VERY good at it. I mean that I make a lousy Holy Spirit.

When we project bias or any presumed internal attitude or disposition on others, we are attempting to do a job we don’t have the equipment to do.

Let people mourn. Deeply. As they will. It’s actually a very constructive practice in the end.

 

Candidates and leaders

The presidential election season is at its hottest point right now and it won’t cool off until a POTUS is elected in November. I have puzzled for a long time at my inability to embrace candidates. Listening to the diatribes of rabid fans from the left of right – and I am most delighted to have dear friends from both persuasions – has only made me more alienated.

It’s not so much with the process – the fire of political rhetoric both positive and negative has its place – but with the actual field of candidates we have this year. And .. well, most election years. It always seems that in the end I am voting for the lesser of two evils. There hasn’t been a candidate I would endorse for decades. Part of that is because I’m not an institution like a newspaper or trade union and I don’t have to endorse anyone. And part of it is that I just don’t align with the two party approach. But even that is not the whole story as I’ll talk about below.

So, in the first place, we have the issues that everyone crows about. The voting public is asked to fit into 2 groups – conservative (Republican) and liberal (Democrat). Using just three categories of stances one might have on the issues and allowing for only three view on those issues (I insist there is a moderate place in each category), we have a 9 entry table:

basicpoliticalspectrum

The “International” category includes things like foreign relations, immigration, etc., though most would include some of that in “Social”. My points are 2:

  1. This is a very simple picture of the true spectrum.
  2. If one fits into a solid conservative or liberal stance everywhere, there is still no candidate that does and that is a statistical rarity.

But I don’t even think an issues-based affinity works to choose a Commander-in-Chief. What I want, and what I think the nation needs, is a leader.  The qualities of a leader are different from those of a candidate who can draw a crowd and go toe to toe in a debate.  Leaders do that too, but they do much, much more.  Here are some qualities that show what I mean:

  1. Inclusion over issues – The ability to unite and inspire even ones ideological foes is a rare talent, and even more rare among presidential candidates. The president heads up only 1 branch of a three branch government. An issues-only presidency makes for legislative gridlock and aggressive judicial review. And this applies to the leading the American people, because crisis – and there will be that – requires it.
  2. Compassion at the core – While the left would lay claim to this point; I don’t mean it that way. The ability to hear out others and address their concerns with what are overriding concerns on your part matters. People are going to disagree, for lots of reasons. How someone treats his/her detractors speaks volume to that person’s character, and fit for the job. An inability to rise above vitriolic, ad hominem rhetoric disqualifies any leader.
  3. Courage to be unique – More than fitting a party’s platform, or the patterns of any tribe, the best presidents have convictions informed by higher sources. As a person of faith, I admire those who know that the parties do not fit with what they know to be true. Self- and tribal-interest mar righteousness, pulling its actions to into harmful directions. A leader with courage to be him/herself will receive accusations of not being strong-enough and others of being oppressive and abusing power. When both of those happen, we have a president.

 

I know I’m not alone in my reticence about this year’s candidates. And I know even writing this will alienate those who have been polarized. My goal is not that, but to help us all understand what a real leader is.