Love (all) Thy Neighbors

I think at this point in 2019, it goes without saying that we live in an incredibly polarized society. This has been the norm since at least the second half of 2016, and if we are being honest, it was that way well before. Being in college in a time where so many people violently disagree on issue after issue, I have gotten the opportunity to grow into my own passions. I have learned to advocate when I see a need and I have dedicated a lot of time to educating myself on injustices such as immigration and women’s rights. I am proud to call myself an activist and I am always down for a protest. (#WomensWave2019, am I right??). While becoming an activist in such a charged political and social climate has been an extraordinary experience, it has also led me to learn some pretty ugly truths about myself.  

Lately, I have been struggling with one truth in particular. I am a deeply passionate person who constantly struggles with empathy. Ironic, isn’t it? When, at 22 years old, I learned this about myself, I was shocked. How could I be a passionate, powerful, feminist and at the same time lack an ability to empathize with others?

It looks a lot like this: I advocate for a cause or group of people I feel passionate about. This advocacy comes from a place of passion and a sense that I can do something to right an injustice I am witnessing in the world. At the same time, I encounter another person who is apathetic, or God forbid even in disagreement with my views on the issue. Encountering this person with views so far from my own leads me to move from a place of passion and into rage. I find myself angry that there would be someone in this would who can see things so differently than my definition of justice.

In this place of anger and rage, the last thing I can see myself doing is empathizing with those views opposite of mine. This problem is really quite simple. And I would guess I am not the only person struggling with this dilemma. 

I am so often unwilling to empathize with those opposite from me that I forget the humanity of the other side. It is a lot easier to love thy neighbor who agrees with me and will go to brunch to rant about the patriarchy, than to love thy neighbor who has ten reasons why the United States needs a wall at the Southern border. And even though it is really really really hard, Jesus does call us to do both. 

Jesus did not pick and choose which neighbor to love.

And while passion is a beautiful thing and I believe it is essential to humanity, sometimes I let it fill me to the brim. And that makes it difficult to listen to what others have to say. And when I stop listening, it is that much easier to dismiss the person entirely.

And while I may disagree with their logic and their opinions, it is still my duty as a Christian to at least recognize the humanity within the person I so incredibly disagree with.

For a long time, I thought I was on the right side of all the issues and I couldn’t possibly understand why anyone else would think differently. But here’s the thing. I’m not always right. And plenty of people do have opinions different than my own. Those people are still loved by God. They are human and they have their own passions just like mine. They also have their own reasons for those opinions so opposite from my own. And while I may disagree with their logic and their opinions, it is still my duty as a Christian to at least recognize the humanity within the person I so incredibly disagree with.

Realizing this about myself has encouraged me to slow down and reflect on the times I have passionately snapped back at an opinion or phrase I disagree with, without first considering the humanity that opinion belongs to. I have snapped at friends, family, and people I hardly knew. I can’t help but regret this unchristian behavior. God gave us all our own unique passions, but I don’t believe He intended us to tear each other apart over them. 

I am a firm believer that our voices matter and what we believe can have a real impact on others. I will always be passionate and I will always use my voice to make this world a better place. 

But I am also going to start listening with a more open heart. Because those who differ from me are not automatically stupid or cruel or ignorant. They are human. They are my friends, my family, and my peers. They are children of God. 

I think that if we all kept this in mind, we might not see ourselves living in such a “this or that” society. We might even catch a glimpse of what God intended for all of His children, when He created us and instilled in us our own unique passions and ideas. 

Michaela Rowland is a senior majoring in economics with minors in business and women’s & gender studies. She is passionate about social issues and feminism and loves engaging in intentional conversations. She is a big planner and has an excel spreadsheet for just about everything. 

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