More and more I’m finding I would rather be “for” something instead of “against” something. I’ve spent a good portion of my life protesting, criticizing, and opposing all types of organizations, exploitation, and wrong-doing. This hasn’t been wasteful. It has opened my eyes to inequality and injustice, and I have plenty of holy resistance left to give.
But maintaining only an “anti” attitude, honestly, is exhausting. Case in point is my religious world: For so long I sought to correct every theological mistake; critique every aberrant opinion; and tear down every oppressive denomination. But there was no place to stop and say, “Mission accomplished!” or rest in the knowledge that all things were as they should be.
With always another heretic to expose, another dogma to defend, and another issue to oppose, it was unending. Not to mention the fact that there was no way to check my self-righteous ego. Staying in constant, protesting, picketing mode can make one feel superior to his or her opponents, and this can turn the most idealistic reformer into a pompous ass instead of a champion for the truth.
So, I am finding a better way forward by using my time and energy positively instead of negatively – by being “for” – not just “against.” I’m learning that the best way to oppose hate is not just to complain about it; I must embody what it means to love. In opposing injustice and manipulation, I can’t simply be oppositional; I must live out and actively pursue equality and honesty.
I can’t simply critique an organization (whether it be a faith community, a local not-for-profit or a school board) for its perceived shortcomings without offering a better, healthier way. Paraphrasing the late Leslie Newbigin: What is really needed is faithful living and better questions, “questions for which good news is the answer.”
For all that is obviously wrong, harmful, and abusive in this world – and there are plenty of challenges – substantial and sustained change is possible not by complaint alone, but by contradiction: By offering and being an alternative answer. Anyone, after all, can grumble about what is wrong with a person, an institution, or a society; and a few can even correctly diagnose the source of these problems. It takes far more depth and maturity to be a part of the solution.
And maybe that is why, after living a few decades, we seek to transition from purely “anti” people to becoming “for” people; from being those who can only shout, “No!” to those who can offer a hopeful and helpful, “Yes!” In growing older (and maybe wiser), we learn that we can’t really change others anyway. We can only change ourselves.
Jalaluddin Rumi said, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” His wisdom is timeless, because the only way to resist what is wrong and evil in this world, is to personally become what is just and right.