A Community of Compassion

Publication Note: This column was first published in the December 20, 2017 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format.  It is the 26th installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column, marking one year of publication!

When life moves at a fast pace, we have very little room left to see the needs of others.  Increasing our pace to meet increasing demands can be counterproductive, often generating greater demands as we chase ever-expanding obligations.  Many times, these demands are artificial, in that we place emphasis and value on unrealistic or unattainable ideals, and require more of ourselves than is possible to generate.

For example, the unrealistic ideal of unanimity is one such pursuit which, when emphasized over unity, can create an unhealthy dynamic.  I would suggest that unanimity requires a type of adherence which, if not achieved, can paralyze any significant work or progress from being accomplished.  By contrast, unity can be achieved over time, when parties come to the table and subsequently return to the table, understanding that different perspectives and suggestions can not only co-exist, but that they can be healthy in the context of a functional, respectful relationship.  The problem of overvaluing unanimity is that it is often pursued out of fear of managing the aftermath.  It is easier to derail a process for lack of unanimity, than it is to take a chance on an idea and bring people on board afterward who may have previously opposed you.   The goal of unity requires a faithful pursuit, facilitated by giving one another enough space to try new methods, ideas, or policies without fear of retribution or humiliation.  It requires releasing our grasp on those things we cannot control.

It is important, then, that those who would lead others have the courage to pursue unity without the heavy-handed, but empty, excuse of unanimous approval.  Sometimes pursuing unity means letting go of our ideal solution and graciously extending opportunity to another person.  You see, there is not one person or group who has all of the “right” ideas all of the time.  Don’t believe those who claim to have all the answers for you.  Be skeptical of those who promise to do something FOR your own good, without consulting you, listening to your concerns, or inviting your input.  Instead, expect more of those who would lead you – expect compassion, grace, and transparency.  Trust those who would relieve you of your burden, not those who would relieve you of your autonomy.  

When our energy is focused on continuously requiring others to align with our own arbitrarily narrow preferences, we voluntarily impose unhealthy stress and expectations of ourselves and others.  It is time to be relieved from this unnecessary burden.

Bringing this cycle to an end is easier said than done.  But it starts with a decision– a decision that your health, your time, and your well-being are more important than the need to impress or persuade others. Even those of us who live in a small town like Lonoke can get caught in the oppression of unrealistic expectations and demands.  But perhaps the difference here is, we have a choice whether or not we participate in this draining cycle.

Before this decision can be made, we must, as individuals, be moved with compassion for others.  We make room for compassion when we deliberately choose to simplify our obligations and reduce our pace.  In doing so, we find that we will notice more details about the place in which we live.  We will find ourselves walking down streets we may have previously driven by too quickly, or spending time on a neighbor’s porch across town whose house we may have never previously visited.  We will listen more, and react less.

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Lonoke County Courthouse at Christmas, Downtown Lonoke, Ark. – Image by Trae Reed, Provision UAS Aerial Imagery

Perhaps the reason we have a difficult time grasping grace is that we have come to unrealistically demand more of our physical bodies and expect too much productivity or success in our lives.  We have come to demand machine-like precision of our bodies and set ourselves up for devastation when the unexpected inevitably occurs.

I believe grace is the answer.

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.  Stevenson was recently interviewed on the Pass the Mic podcast by hosts Jemar Tisby and Tyler Burns, discussing his work on behalf of the marginalized and articulating the intersection of his faith with his service.  Stevenson poignantly noted, “I feel grace has allowed me to see the possibility of creating something better in every community, in every situation.”

In Lonoke, there is the need and the space for grace.  The decision to extend grace, first to ourselves, and then outwardly to others, is perhaps more easily accomplished in a small community where we can know and be known by others.  The counterpart to grace is acceptance.  That is, if we are to extend grace, we must be prepared to accept the person to whom we are reaching.  Likewise, when grace is extended to us, we must be prepared to accept it from the person who is offering.

So, our challenge is to slow down.  Embrace the opportunity to operate at a manageable pace, which our small town provides for us.  Take the time to notice the hurting, the marginalized, and the overlooked right here in our own community.  Lonoke’s history requires that we intentionally confront hurt in order that healing begin.  

Bryan Stevenson reminds us, “When we talk about truth and reconciliation, we have to acknowledge that truth and reconciliation is sequential.  If you don’t commit yourself to truth-telling first, then you can’t get to reconciliation. It’s only through acknowledgement of the things you have done wrong that you can experience the kind of redemption, reconciliation, and recovery that is offered to all of us.”

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Have the courage and discernment to believe in those who demonstrate trust in your creative instincts and empower you to lead a collaborative process.  Likewise, be willing to give your neighbors a chance, and be hopeful for the process of unity over time.  Avoid the temptation to be frustrated when things don’t move as quickly at times, as your expectations might demand.  Instead, embrace the season, the moment, and the people who are awaiting your support and compassion.

Ryan Biles is celebrating fourteen years of marriage to Natalie this month ( along with one year of writing this column)! Archives and additional content are online at www.lookatlonoke.com .

 

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