The Gov’t Shutdown & a 4 Letter Word

20131018-010111.jpgThe government is up and running.

Hundreds of thousands of people are back at work.

A financial crisis has been averted…for now.

While we share different opinions over the source of what may or may not cause an economic disaster, what transpired on my Facebook newsfeed during the shutdown was, without a doubt, disastrous.

I’m referring to the four letter word that I kept seeing time and time again. Perhaps even you were guilty of using it.

This slanderous, four letter word was tossed around by both sides of the aisle without the slightest thought to the weight this word carries.

What four letter word am I referring to?

“They”

Yep.

“They”

It can be such a terrible word.

They are all like that. They don’t get us. They are always _______. They are never ______. They are not our people. They are all the same. They all feel ______. They would never ______.

Do you know how often this is not true — not even remotely?

This mythical “they” creates straw men for us to disparage, propping up stereotypes and strengthening our prejudices while eliminating the actual work of relationships. It is the easy way out to be sure. We are excused from personal contact entirely, imagining ourselves as their victim or their target or their adversary. We can actually invent an entire conflict without speaking a solitary word to a live human being.

Many of us find in this mythical “they”  a mythical nemesis.

Who is your “they?”

Is your “they” political?

Is your “they” theological?

Is your “they” racial?

Is your “they” socio-economic?

Is your “they” geographical?

Is your “they” educational?

The main reason we love to create a “they” (sic) is because it makes us feel better about being “us” (but that is another blog post for another time).

The disastrous thing that takes place when we create a “they” is that rather than doing the grown up thing and actually talking or connecting or asking questions face to face, we hide behind the mythical “they” and the protection of our computer and absolve ourselves of truthful discernment. After all, why have a potentially fruitful conversation when we can just make one up in our heads?

Guess what?

There is no “they.”

There is just a collection of individuals who share a common humanity, a common brokenness, a common beauty.

There is no “they.”

20131018-010344.jpgThere is only “we.” And “we” all have stories. Some of our stories are pretty. Others are not. Sometimes “we” lose our jobs. Other times “we” go through divorce. Sometimes “we” have a secret addiction. Other times “we” love Jesus like a fat kid loves cake. Sometimes “we” have no idea why it is we are here.

“We the People” should be a reminder to us that there is only “we” and “we” are all people.

When we create a “they,” we forget that “they” have stories like “we” have stories, “they” have feelings just like “we” have feelings, “they” have histories just like “we” have histories.

When we create a “they” we fracture humanity: just keep people separated and we can reinforce invented boundaries in our imaginations. But when we realize that there is only “we,” people come together and really listen to each other, doing the hard work of human kindness. When this happens, virtually every barrier is breached.

Experience tells me that I can sit down over coffee with almost any perceived adversary and end up laughing until my ribs ache. Common ground abounds when we choose to topple this toxic structure with courage and trust and real discussions and grace for each other.

There is no “they.”

So this next week, be brave.

Pick up the phone.

Send an email.

Ask someone to coffee.

It’s time to stop painting a group with a wide brush and get close enough to see what those folks are actually like. You will never regret giving someone a chance, but you might forever regret carrying a fake grudge to your deathbed. Let’s refuse to buy into this horrid game. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt, some actual time. Let’s listen and connect and try to understand each other like the people of mercy we are supposed to be.

It could just be the most beautiful, holy thing you do.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:28-29

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