One of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn in life is that people will fail me. Over and over again, they will fail me. And my systems, they will fail me, too. My church and my family and my friends will fail me. People I love will ruin me. And that’s life. The flip side, of course, is that I will fail others, even when I don’t mean to or want to sometimes. It’s the curse of sin, and we cannot escape it. But we can learn how to deal with it when it happens.
I’ve noticed particularly that when individuals have been crushed, abused, or otherwise heartbroken by a particular person, place, and culture, the most common tendency is to go somewhere that’s never hurt them before, never overpromised or uttered a painful word. Never made them feel ashamed or afraid. And often, that somewhere is the complete opposite of where they began.
Temporary lack of pain isn’t necessarily any indication of something better.
The only problem with this is that temporary lack of pain isn’t necessarily any indication of something better. Everything but Christ eventually fails. Real life is painful, and unless we learn to work through it, sort the good from the bad, and stick up for ourselves and what we really, truly believe, want, etc., we’ll just flounder about until we find someplace new to rest long enough to catch a breath. The only way we can actually learn to deal with pain, fear, hurt, and all the rest is to face it. And yeah, some stuff might need tossing or require fleeing, but it’s not likely that every possible thing about any person, belief structure, or community is wrong. It’s not usually all or nothing.
Reacting vs. responding
The surefire way to tell a person who is reacting rather than responding is to watch how they deal with conflict. How much will they reject outright? How far will they run away and distance themselves before engaging in the conversation? How many logical fallacies will they hurl about in self-defense? How much will they study and/or ask clarifying questions? How many words will they redefine and acts of kindness will they reject? How many straw men will they set up? How much will they gossip and forge alliances? How much will they assume? The surefire way is to look for an “all or nothing” attitude because that’s what you usually find at the heart of intellectual dishonesty fueled by pain or fear. I know because I’ve seen some of these very things in myself.
It’s why disgruntled children of the GOP end up hardcore Democrats rather than moderates or independents. It’s why former evangelical homeschoolers end up radical atheists. It’s all too easy. We don’t want to grant an inch of right to those who treated us badly, and this inclination can produce the most ridiculous of defense mechanisms.
Maturity requires more
The idea that one cannot live amongst people they disagree with and survive as a thoughtful, intelligent being is simply nonsense. Thinking, by its very nature, requires working through details independently and making decisions about good and bad and right and wrong based upon facts. One’s surroundings are hardly the differentiator. But let’s be clear. Running away is not the moral high ground, and intellectual integrity is not found in blank slates and empty words. It’s not found through all or nothing.
All or nothing is a copout. What’s important is becoming an individual. Working through the details. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Learning how to stick up for yourself and when to admit wrong, if needed. Learning about who you really are and how your upbringing does and does not mesh with what you’ve studied and experienced. There are bound to be real differences; that’s reality. But to ditch it all because you’re hurt? That’s fear. That’s pain. It’s not actually anything capable of changing reality or truth. Truth remains a thing we can only accept or reject but never change.
Immaturity runs away or fights. Maturity works it out or lets it go.