Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hello, Big Guy

One of the reasons I believe in God is that confluence of events that happens once in awhile where you get the same message from every direction at once. I'm sure it could be argued from another standpoint, but for me that's a clear sign that I need to Pay Attention. Sometimes, unfortunately, I don't get the subtle hints and I need to be whacked upside the head before I notice that there is a message coming through.

The whacking occurred a few weeks ago. I'm not going to track all of the events, conversations, situations...that would be really boring to read. Suffice to say that This Week's Lesson is accountability. I think. Or maybe it's that we all see the world very diffferently, and to assume that the way I see it is universal is wrong. And decidedly unsafe. Selfish? Stupid? Inconsiderate? Do Not Do It.

So it's pretty clear with that intro that I try to hold myself accountable to God. Not everyone does because not everyone believes in God. I also try to hold myself accountable to my family and friends, and to myself. That's a lot of bosses. Sometimes--quite often--not all the bosses agree. That's sucky. In the big stuff, fortunately, all the voices tend to agree, most of the time.

I do think that most people--most non-sociopaths anyway--do try to hold themselves to account at some level. We know when we've followed (or gone against) our principles, we know when our parents, for example, would (or wouldn't) be proud of us. Or at least on the Big Stuff we do.

However, I have a question, a legitimate question that is NOT meant to start a religious flame-war. If you don't believe in God, how do you know when you're really right? Or wrong? Who do you report to in the event of a Situation? Yourself? What about debriefing after a Situation? This may sound flip or studiously silly, but with my background as a lifelong Christian, I just don't know.

And that ties into the second part of what I mentioned above: we all see the world very differently. In the past couple of weeks I've either made assumptions, or had assumptions challenged, that I thought were "what everyone thinks/does/assumes."

In the theoretical sense, of course, this is not news. Even in everyday interactions, if I don't see eye-to-eye with someone I don't know, this doesn't cause me any angst at all. But when it happens--as it has lately--with good friends, with people I respect, with people I like, it's a whole other kettle of fish. [the hell with grammar] It's really a whole NOTHER kettle where I grew up! See what I mean?

These are the sorts of issues, too, that are not generally discussed in public: abortion, religion, ethics in general, homosexuality, ANY sexuality at all!.... I know better than to bring these subjects up unless I'm absolutely positive they aren't going to start a face-to-face confrontation; I bring them up online primarily because 1) it frequently feels like the only place I CAN bring them up, and 2) if I get flamed by people I don't know, I have no problem kicking them out of my "house" online. I could go on about my online behavior differing a great deal from my IRL behavior...suffice to say that there is a difference. A huge difference. Ya'll have NO IDEA!

Just about every day this week, however, someone has managed to (generally unwittingly) two-by-four my assumptions about "what normal people do" or "what everyone thinks." The difficulty is not so much that I disagree with them, it is that they are doing the exact same thing back at me! There we sit, two (or three) people all seeing eye-to-eye, and then suddenly...NOT! Suddenly, I feel like we've slewed off the road and I've been thrown from the vehicle...and they don't know. They've gone rocketing on their way, and I'm rolling down the asphalt trying to figure out what the hell just happened. Or maybe I'm driving and they fell out and haven't realized it. The kicker? I can still hear their voices talking to me even though we're no longer in the vehicle together.

Of course, this has happened before now to me. Several years ago, I was talking to a pastor's wife, someone I liked but didn't know well, when suddenly she was telling that she knows all about the "homosexual agenda" and the trashy and horrible life "all homosexuals" live because of a personal situation she was tangetially involved in... I very calmly said I didn't agree with her and thought we should not pursue this conversation. She pushed...I pushed back. It caused a rift. But, as I said, I didn't know her well so I was able to at least start handling it rationally, even if it ended badly. In any case, it was unexpected but not earth-shattering.

Much more recently, I was speaking to a colleague about the enormous changes that were coming in the way our work situation was going to be done. We were both whining and complaining and generally venting, when all of a sudden my colleague was no longer just whining. The conversation became absolutely vituperative, mean-spirited, and VERY very personal about some other colleagues. That was several months ago, and I think it may be the precipitating event in this cascade of WTF that all came to a head for me this week. I (still) cannot figure out where this person is coming from. I thought that we shared a belief that THIS is the Right Thing, only to find out that she absolutely wanted NOTHING to do with it. I stood there with my mouth gaping like a hooked tuna.

So the second question that I'm faced with, that I'm throwing out to the universe (oh, believe me, God is so hearing about this!) is: what is the right thing to do when this happens? Do I stop everything and listen quietly and carefully? Do I respond with my take on the subject, even if it means saying hard things and possibly alienating someone? Do I hold on to it all and try to see the other person's point of view, sort of let it settle in, and then revisit the subject later? Or is the answer really, truly different in each situation?

Honestly, the response I tend toward is saying hard things, usually without thinking them through. This is the way I was raised, and most of the time I prefer having other people deal with me that way. However, as the years pass I'm getting better at stopping and listening (Beast is now snorting--stop that!). What I seem unable to do is the letting things settle and re-visiting later.

At the church I grew up in, our pastor closed nearly every worship service with the same words. Apparently, I didn't hear them enough, or I haven't heard them recently enough, or something. I guess I still haven't gotten the message: "Be kind to those around you. Remember, everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load."

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