Years ago I used to coach select, adolescent/young teen baseball. I could no longer hit nor throw as far as those talented young men, but I know the game and know it well. Recent events have reminded me of a relevant incident — not my best moment — in which my boys were playing an accomplished rival, having multiple men on base, primed to score.
My strong, number five hitter was up to bat, and immediately, he smacked a hard line drive to right center. Coaching first and psyched to beat this particular team, I demonstrably signaled for my guy to head to second, attempting to stretch his single to a double.
Now as anyone who knows their baseball will share with you — including me — if you’re going to send a runner to second with the ball hit to right center, that ball better be way past the fielders and the runner exceptionally fast. Neither here was true. My guy was quickly called out, killing any rally.
My head coach wasn’t happy. The kid wasn’t happy. And the kid’s dad was worse, screaming at his son across the infield.
I had a choice: do I acknowledge my role in the tension?
Loud enough for all to hear — my team, their team, the forty-some fans in the stands and all passersby — I yelled, “It was my fault! I told him to go!”
It was my fault.
My words didn’t extinguish the frustration on the field nor all anger elsewhere. But when I took responsibility for that which I was responsible, the intensity of others’ reactions subdued.
It makes me often wonder if the hardest thing to do is to own that for which we are responsible. It is far easier to point fingers at another — focusing on what they are doing wrong — than acknowledging how we have contributed to the tension.
We often look at others’ behavior as awful… “Look at what they are doing!” Maybe we look at them as having started it first. But the reality is that many intelligent, even goodhearted people among us are more focused on someone else.
With this week’s reprehensible mail bomb activity, much of the country began talking about civility. As an advocate for respectful dialogue, solution, and loving all people well (as opposed to just those who agree with me), I’m thankful we have at least gotten the nation’s attention… for now. But will we make the most of the opportunity? Or will we continue to focus on someone else?
Friends, who will we make excuses for?
Will we make excuses for the mail bombs?
Will we make excuses for those who harass public officials when out to eat?
Will we make excuses for the incivility in many of Pres. Trump’s tweets?
Will we make excuses for the incivility encouraged by Hillary Clinton?
Will we make excuses for the Sen. Sanders supporter who shot at congressional Republicans playing softball?
Will we make excuses for Rep. Maxine Waters (and all others) who have called to disrupt others and tell them “they’re not welcome”?
Will we make excuses for ourself? … responding with an angry insult, thinking lesser of, or an actual refusal to listen? … dismissing, denigrating, or simply waiting for solely them to come around?
My humble sense is that we spend so much time focusing on the misdeeds of others that we inadvertently excuse the imprudence and maliciousness in ourselves. In fact, we can be so deeply passionate — understandably — that we are blinded to our own misdeeds. Our passion, emotion, and intelligence too often pave the way for the excusal of awful behavior.
Friends, if we want America to be the opportune, sweet land of liberty, where all huddled masses are valued and respected from wherever they hail, however they hail, and whatever marks them as divinely created and uniquely, beautifully gifted — if we are going to be a united state of America — we must recognize that civility starts with us. It starts by individually examining how we are encouraging someone to not love and respect some other.
Who are you looking down upon? Who are you considering less significant than yourself? Who are you marginalizing?
In other words, are we unknowingly excusing our own bad behavior, believing it is something more moral than it actually is?
Let us gently but mercifully acknowledge that this applies to each of us… left, right, black, white, male, female, you-name-it, you and me. I’d like to take back a few moments — moments in which I reacted instead of contemplated, preached instead of practiced, encouraged resistance instead of listening, and offered judgment instead of grace. I am very imperfect; we all are. Perhaps to keep us humble, God made each of us that way, prompting the pursuit of and a reliance upon a wisdom far superior than our own.
So what do we do, imperfect as we are, to capitalize on “the fierce urgency of Now”? Let me suggest we begin by stopping the excuses… for any disrespectful, damaging behavior.
Let us not begin with ensuring Trump stops tweeting. Let us not begin with making sure “we” win more elections first. Let us also not begin by tuning into only one biased, agenda-driven news source, thinking they are somehow helping. If leaders, loyalists, politicians, pundits, news anchors and activists refuse to be respectful, let us model the behavior which is wiser. Better. And good.
Let there be peace in our country.
And let it begin with “me.”