Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Trickle-Down Effect

Something hard for me to articulate to myself (but which I'm attempting to do, to clarify my own thinking) is how being gentle and being fierce are compatible in our dealings with others. Do we flow along like the quiet nurturing brook or thunder like the waterfall, cracking trees, pulling boulders from banks, and hurtling everything into the foamy-foam below: what floats may pass, what shatters then sinks will perish? 

It's something I see running about the web, too, framed in terms of rebuking the sinner:

P1: Be gentle with them.
P2: Go nuclear on their ass.

This tension is not between being conventionally nice and not-nice as in pleasant and unpleasant. People being rebuked isn't exactly something we doodle into our calendars and surround with hearts and swirls in colored ink. Because we like to reduce things to simpler terms, we tend to think of gentleness and nuclear as nice and not-nice and, then, as pleasant and unpleasant. The terms shift from a focus on treatment-of-people to how-our-treatment-of-people-makes-us-feel. I'm not sure that entirely makes sense as I've written it, but there's some subtle under-the-table-term-dodgery that seems to be going on and something gets lost in translation.

ANYWAYS, a good clue in resolving this tension might be found in depictions of saints. If we're the Church Militant, then what are the weapons that these saints used?

St. Nicholas had his fist to punch the heretic, St. Faustina her chaplet, Mother Teresa her hands to caress, Aquinas a flaming brand to chase the prostitute, St. Dominic the Rosary...there's a whole medley of saintly examples that run a gamut of behaviors from meekness to violence.

In our dealings with others, there is self and an other: it's between two  distinct persons. It's curious to me that we are not especially keen to reflect on ourselves as the source of an action or the other as the recipient but are, instead, quick to point to examples as guides. We like to dish it out, but not to take it so much, eh? But those were particular people in particular circumstances dealing with particular individuals. What is it that creates harmony between them all and provides a unifying explanation?

The nexus lies in the order of charity: are our actions rooted in Christ, are they fruits of virtue, are they a dynamic outpouring of love? The person who is united to Christ is able to discern the correct course of action in dealings with others in relation to our final end, at least to some degree. Since human knowledge is imperfect we go off of particular known circumstances and we can unwittingly err unless we have divine inspiration.

Knowledge is a powerful thing and where there is sin there is a sinner. We see a someone who has become a drunkard and we know they are drinking because they have suffered an immense blow and we treat them differently (I hope!) than the profligate wastrel who left his wife and children and spends all his time stumbling from bar to bar. Is the other person showing signs of sorrow? Is the other person manifesting malicious intent? There are so many considerations when we look at individuals that shape how we deal with them. This isn't an exciting observation. Most Catholics could probably tell you exactly what Canon 915 is about, for example, but it's not always acknowledged in theoretical dealings with less-ostentatious cases.

Or, on the side of self, we might know that we have a particularly irascible character and can turn into a wall of fury when dealing with certain persons - either because we've had it up to here with their crap OR because the subject at hand is one that particularly inflames us. Fraternal correction can then turn into a non-fraternal beat-down. We often get an unholy itch to kick someone when they're down (it's really the best time to do it, if you think about it), to lay it on thiccckkk, to be sure that the other person realizes just what an infinitesimal little blight they are on this glorious golden universe. Prudence might whisper: step away, you arse.

Human beings have the immense fight of mastering our passions, by the grace of God, and so when we deal with others it's not shocking that we can miss the sweet spot of excellence in action.  Both P1 and P2 may both be warning against opposite dangers that we can fall into (or they may simply be trying to justify their cruel treatment of others/etc. - there's many a man [and woman] who has hidden behind a mask of sanctity). Don't be too gentle with someone who needs rousing and don't be too aggressive with someone who needs a gentle hand.

So I guess the answer is: become a saint, desire God above all things, and let your actions flow from an active life of grace. Then in our dealings with others, we have the freedom to act with excellence, to discern with a clear(er) vision given our own self and an other what is the best path to our final end and theirs. I'm sure there are jumps and gaps in my logic here, but after 10+ hours of work and suchlike, GIVE THOU ME A BREAK.

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