Responding, not reacting, to hostility

When we’re faced with anger or incivility, in the heat of the moment it can be tempting to react in kind. But pausing to let God, Love, inspire our response enables us to proceed in a thoughtful, patient, healing manner.

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“Am not!” “Are too!” And then an argument flares up on the playground, with one kid reacting to another’s taunts and jeers.

A lot of us have probably had some grown-up “playground moments” like that, when we’ve reacted to someone or something that’s hurt or upset us. And then maybe someone’s told us, “Don’t take it personally.” Well, that’s often easier said than done, especially when we’re on the receiving end of personal criticism, an angry attitude, a threatening confrontation, or a dismissive response to our work or ideas.

But through my study and practice of Christian Science, I’ve found that it is possible to rise above negativity, anger, and jealousy. And no, it’s not through willpower, positive thinking, or just keeping the clichéd “stiff upper lip.”

It’s really about letting God, who is divine Love and Truth, lift our thoughts and actions to a higher level – a spiritual poise. With a God-centered view like this, we realize that we don’t need to react in kind to a put-down. I’ve seen the huge difference it can make to patiently and thoughtfully respond, rather than automatically reacting in aggravation. The result of responding with God-inspired intelligence and civility can be more constructive than we might think.

At one time in a business situation, I found myself face-to-face with a product manager who berated me and my sales promotion group for being “stupid” and “uninformed” in how we’d described a new product in a trade show display.

I was about to throw down some words about his unappreciative, arrogant reputation – not to mention his unavailability to approve the display beforehand – when I suddenly stopped, closed my mouth, and turned to God. A line from “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, came to me. It’s a spiritual interpretation of the verse “Give us this day our daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us grace for to-day; feed the famished affections” (p. 17).

So does this imply we should just let hostile, selfish, insulting thoughts and actions go unchecked? Hardly! But we can look to God for the grace and moral courage to resist reacting to the maltreatment, insult, or taunt in kind.

Doing this most effectively involves discerning ourselves and others as God’s spiritual image and likeness, rather than ill-tempered mortals. Rising above cycles of negativity and anger means rising to the appreciation of the true concept of our own – and everyone’s – individuality as the expression of God’s love and fairness. This enables us to respond in a way that improves rather than degrades a situation.

In this case, as I took that prayerful pause, it came to me to simply say to the manager, “We both want to get this right. How can we work together to do that?” Surprised by my response, he replied that he wasn’t used to being treated respectfully and often felt that people he interacted with just wanted to argue with him. Together, we made several changes to the display, and the outcome was a major success. Afterward he thanked my group in person for our good work.

To me, it was a modest but perfect example of what’s possible when we let God show us the way in a situation. In the world’s current state of mental and physical agitation, isn’t it important to make sure we’re doing all we can to keep conversation and events in an atmosphere of genuine (not forced) civility?

It’s amazing how easily our tongues can derail us, rather than keep us on the track of constructive dialogue. As the Apostle James says in the Bible, if someone “can control his tongue he can control every other part of his personality” (James 3:2, J.B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”).

We actually do have the spiritual poise we need to do this, to express more wisdom, patience, and forgiveness in how we respond to a situation. Each of us can seek God’s help in prayer before engaging with what’s been said or done. We’ll be better able to help to bring out the inherent good in our fellow men and women, rather than tearing them down, if we can look for and appreciate the spiritual good in others.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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