What Good Does it Do?

Philippians 4:8 (ESV) - Finally brothers, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

 

"We are here on earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I do not know." - W.H. Auden

How often have we heard the phrase, "What good would that do?", often in reference to hopeless situations where we excuse inaction by assuming nothing could possibly change, anyway. This phrase has been on my mind quite a bit, as of late, although in a different light. When is the last time we stopped to think about the ACTUAL good that we and the lives we are living are doing? Specifically, concerning the following:

Apathy

It's overwhelming, the things we're told we NEED to care about. Equality, immigration, politics, pay gaps, world hunger, unemployment... Where do we start? The answer is to start where we can, how we can. We can't single-handedly end world hunger, but we can donate to or even host food drives. We can't fix immigration policy on our own, but we can get involved in local and national politics, research candidates, volunteer for campaigns, learn about the issues, and be a part of constructive change.

The point, here, is that apathy is just one more excuse. It's easy. But it's unacceptable. Just because we can't solve an issue all on our own, we're not off the hook for being part of the solution instead of part of the problem. And make no mistake, not being part of the solution IS being part of the problem.

Words

Words spark revolutions, inspire passion, incite wars, and convey important ideas. I'd have NOTHING to do with all my free time, if not for words. The way we use our words has a prodigious effect on the people around us; as if we're casting spells. (Thank you, Julien Smith and Spellbound) So, this begs the question, What good are our words doing? Words are important. Words matter. "All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Retaliation

Ok, bear with me. When I say retaliation, I am NOT talking about justice. I'm not talking about karma. I'm not talking about restitution. I'm talking about retaliation. Revenge. As good as it feels, it's not helpful. Can I tell you a story about Jesus? (yep, WWJD)

"Turn the other cheek..." You've heard this one before, I'm sure, but my guess is you've only heard part of it. Allow me to tell you the other part. At this point in history, in Jewish culture, society was split into a few different social castes, and people were definitely aware of where they fit. There were also some very devoutly followed societal norms dictating how those classes interacted with each other and how people should act, in general.

  • Any contact with another person was made with the right hand ONLY. The left hand was "unclean".
  • When striking another person, equals striking equals would use a clenched fist, but a superior striking a subordinate would do so by slapping with the back of the hand
  • Following these rules was compulsory

"JOSH, how is this relevant to the discussion?" Thanks for asking. Here we go.

It was in this caste-based society with strict rules about how you treat people who are your superiors or subordinates that Jesus uttered the words "turn the other cheek". In this social climate, if an oppressed, disenfranchised, downtrodden member of society were to be struck on the right cheek (which is the situation referred to in this passage), this tells us that the person doing the striking was using the back of his or her hand, implying that they were superior to the person being struck. So, when Jesus instructs those listening to turn the other cheek, he is saying something revolutionary. Bold. Dangerous. Stick with me.

If a superior struck a subordinate on the right cheek with the back of the hand (a slap), both parties knew what was happening, in that situation. This was the caste system at work and it was allowing those at the top to keep those at the bottom under their thumbs. Now, imagine if, in this situation, the subordinate were to turn the other cheek to the person that just struck them. That would be the left cheek. Now the power dynamic has completely shifted. Now, if the superior were to try and strike the subordinate again, it would be physically impossible to do it any other way than with a closed fist. But striking with a closed fist was reserved for equals. So what is the superior to do, here? Do you see how this changes EVERYTHING? If the superior were to strike again with a closed fist, they'd be acknowledging the subordinate as an equal, which would be unacceptable to the superior and their social standing. If the superior were to walk away without striking again, they'd be admitting defeat and the subordinate would have successfully stood down someone of a higher social status, which was unheard of! Retaliation would have resulted in fatal consequences. This was not just taking it and accepting powerlessness. This was about changing the game. All of the power was now back in the hands of the powerless.

This is what is known as Third Way Thinking, and it teaches us that, if we're willing to be creative and thoughtful, there are other, better, more constructive, more empowering ways to handle these situations than outright retaliation. What ACTUAL good is retaliation doing?

Money

I hate talking or thinking about money, so we'll make this quick. What good are we doing with our disposable income? If you don't have any, this is not aimed at you. I've certainly been there and I completely understand. But if we do have a bit extra, what actual good are we doing with it?

Time

See above and replace "money" with "time".

Opinions and Judgement

Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has them, but no one wants to hear them. Seriously though, opinions are often unsought, unwelcome, and uninformed. The same goes for judgement.

Perspective (or lack thereof)

So many of the conversations I have with friends end up relating back to perspective. We are all only the expression of our experiences, so we all have differing perspectives. Understanding that all perspectives are valid (if not productive) would go a long way toward creating peace with our fellow humans.

Religion

This one stings. I grew up in a very religious (see: cult) family and saw first-hand what religion does. We attended church at least three times a week, we canvassed on weekends, we taught children in Sunday School, and we told one and all how they were lacking and how we could fix them. But in all of that business, we forgot one essential ingredient of helping people; the helping. We were happy to tell people what God was unhappy with in their life and how faith would see them through, and then we'd send them back home and forget all about them until the next weekend when God commanded us to care about them again. Meanwhile, our tithe dollars went to re-carpeting the auditorium again, re-felting the offering plates, new youth facilities, staff salaries, pamphlet printing, etc. Not once did we host a food drive or pass out blankets to the homeless or raise money for a local shelter. No money went to local charities or outreach (unless you call bribing kids with candy to get them to come to church "outreach") or to anyone that was actually doing anything constructive.

Now, if your religion is a positive force in your life that pushes you to empathy and action, great! Please stick with it. I am simply asking the question, "What good is your religion doing?"

I'll end this with one final question:

What would this world look like if we all viewed the way we live through the lens of what GOOD it's actually doing?