try a little tenderness

12:02 PM

I hate election years. So much judging, blaming, finger-pointing and divisiveness. Who's side are you on? Right and wrong. Everything becomes wrapped up in terribly dramatic sounding superlatives and every decision seems to carry more weight. Everyone seems to be at their worst.
Our social media feeds become inundated with everyone's opinions on everything from education to gun control. Our spines stiffen. Our fists clench. We get defensive. Sometimes even mean. You're wrong. I'm right. And so the story goes...
I actively try to turn the volume down so that I can try and hear my own voice. With everyone telling me what to think and what to do I find it incredibly important to give myself space to listen, think and compose my own thoughts. So instead of reading or listening from right or left wings I chose to listen and read stories. From people. Facts and figures, dogmas and rules often obstruct the most valuable lesson - the human one. It's easy to judge the lump sum of a person's mistakes when assigned a numerical value. It is far more difficult to do the same after having walked in someone's shoes. Sure, it's simpler, perhaps even safer to live in a black and white world where certain things are inexcusable, where wrong is wrong no matter the circumstances. But in doing so we often apply a mistaken rubric that can be boiled down to "don't be proud of yourself for hitting a triple because you were born on third base." Because when I listen instead of preaching or judging more often than not I find myself feeling ashamed and humbled.
I remember first hearing the term "moral relativism" at the dinner table when I was around seven or eight. Of course I had no idea what the term stood for at the time yet the seeds of that were already being planted. Those seeds blossomed when I studied psychology in college and learned even more about just what contradictory, complicated and multi-faceted creatures we are. Nothing was simple any longer. My ideas of good and bad dissolved and I was left to fumble my way through understanding the world and people with this new framework that I began to build bit by bit.
Over the years I've heard people say that "moral relativism is dangerous." And certainly you can find specific examples where it is. However, I don't think understanding, listening and having a whole lot of humility when dealing with people is dangerous. There's no such thing as too much grace. We all need it and we all deserve it, tons and tons of it. I don't think I will ever regret giving people another chance, trying to see things from someone else's perspective and understanding that I probably don't have all the answers. I do however, think that I will greatly regret being too judgmental, jumping to conclusions and being too harsh on people. Speaking of which I would much rather call this "philosophy" simply "being soft" rather than moral relativism. Because that's really what it is at the end of the day - a decision to be softer. Be softer towards other people, be softer with ourselves, to soften our hearts and our minds. As I go through my day I try to remind myself to hurt and inflame less and love and listen more. Perhaps in turn I get hurt more myself but tears and pain do not frighten me, it's what makes us human after all.
Before I sign off I wanted to share this stanza from one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems that has been stuck in my mind for days:

"lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts 
and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
through the pale-pink morning light"

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