Was That Tit or Tat?

Two truths and a lie:

  • We don’t control what happens in the world
  • We get to choose how we respond to things that happen
  • Some people know how to push our buttons and they make us angry or force us to respond negatively

The last one is a lie. No one can make you feel any emotion. Our emotions are our own response to what is happening inside us.

Harsh, but true.

When how we feel depends on what happens around us, it can lead to dangerous outcomes. We get caught up in what is happening to us, how people are hurting us, how those around us are making us feel, that we respond with raw emotion and anger in an attempt to hurt the person back.

The trouble is we don’t see that we are doing exactly what we are getting upset about. We only see what is happening to us and not the impact our actions are having on, which is probably how someone hurt us in the first place – they were dishing out the pain they have received on to others. Hurting people hurt people.

Similarly, there is a slippery slope of justifying questionable behaviour. I have seen it firsthand; when a person has perceived that something bad has happened to them, they will then do something unethical, (lie/steal/slander) to make up for it, because ‘someone did something bad to me, so I can behave like this’.

When you think about retribution and justice there a probable a few phrases that come to mind, like

“An eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth”

Which for the longest time I considered to be barbarian, but I discovered that this Old Testament Law came at a time in history when it was common place for acts of violence to escalate so quickly that an innocuous knock of a tooth could turn into all out war and hatred. (Some would consider that we still live in that time).

Martin Luther King Jnr. was talking about this exact issue when he said “Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence…we must meet the forces of hate with the power of love”.

Jesus gave an example of what love looks like in this situation, and took the eye for an eye concept further:

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get  us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”

Generosity is outrageous. It humbles the ego, looks to the other person, sees their pain and willingly submits to physical, emotional and social brutality. At the same time it takes all the power away from the instigator. Non-violence is the most powerful, subversive act.

Generosity, by looking past someone’s actions to their intentions and motivations, will not fix all our immediate problems, it just removes the future ones. The ones that we create for ourselves.