I just hung up on my sister.
She kept going there, and I kept saying, ‘Don’t go down that road.’ She couldn’t resist speaking her views, so I pushed the red button on my mobile phone and cut her off without a word. And now begins a painful, slow, spiritual process to reconnect with her. This is not the first time.
I am a ‘sport’ in my family. In biology the term ‘sport’ means some human, animal or plant form different from the others, usually because of a genetic mutation. I am the mutant. We don’t ‘fit’ together in the best of times.
Most of my extended family are MAGA fans and watch Fox news constantly. They think I’m too educated and soft, and I’m out of touch with the real world. They speak together about their views and keep me out of their conversations.
Yet, we do care about each other. We have a relatively stable ‘peace’ by agreeing never, never to talk about politics or social issues or the news. We talk about our kids and everyday life. Until today. She wanted me to know that ‘woke’ policies were hurting recruitment into the military, something Trump said at a rally a few days ago.
She kept pushing and something erupted in me, a rage, a rage I couldn’t control. So, I hung up. I am now in the third day of seeking internal peace with Christ, which I know is necessary before I try to reach back to my sister. I know, as in the past, I am the one who will need to apologize for hanging up. I know I need to humble myself, but I have to first get through the anger.
Confirmation bias is attached to a person’s identity and is very hard to change. We tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and overvalue evidence that confirms them. (1/2) Click To Tweet We filter out inconvenient truths and arguments on the opposing side. As a result, our opinions solidify, and it becomes increasingly harder to disrupt established patterns of thinking. (2/2) Click To Tweet
My rage is transcendent and personal. I am completely fed up with the pride and foolishness of those who see only what they want to see. I am fed up with the darkness of those in power who would manipulate those without voice in order to increase their wealth and status. The evil that covers its corruption in light and brags of its goodness, I am so tired of this. I am tired of blood and death flowing from so much injustice and most people just step over it. It’s invisible to them.
The transcendent rage comes from the very core of my identity as formed by Christ who calls me to see as he sees and to love as he loves. This means I am in a constant battle with the world to resist the conforming power of this age, and to be transformed into his likeness. I am to be like Christ, even to death, even to the loss of all I cherish, such as a relationship with my sister.
So, from hanging up on my sister has come a good thing. The good thing is I have confirmed within myself my identity in Christ. I have chosen again my God. I choose you Jesus Christ. I choose you. Your values are my values. Your heart is my heart. Your work is my work, and your suffering is my suffering: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I do my share on behalf of his body” (Colossians 1:24).
The personal part of the rage is this: I see that I am also still very immature. I know that I am triggered with the on-going weight of the extended family’s disrespect and jokes. I know I feel unseen and discounted by the very family who should see me best. This rage is personal…and this rage is childish. How I wish I could have disarmed her with a joke or a non-emotional comment. Not like the one I made: “You haven’t read what I’ve read. You don’t understand.” That in turn exploded her anger and determination to prove she had the intellect and savvy to understand the issues.
So, I must humble myself to be as Christ would be. I must ask his forgiveness for my arrogance and lack of love. I reacted to her through my eyes, not through Christ’s. I will reach out to my sister. Christ did not resist the downward suffering of the cross. Even in the most intense pain as they nailed his hands and feet, he did not resist the cross. For the hope of the world being saved through him, he did not resist. The dream, the covenant dream, the very DNA of the universe is that we are all mutants and are only made right when we are reconnected to our Creator God.
So, I wrote this to my sister today:
Dear Sis, I hung up on you, and I’ve given that a lot of thought. I apologize for not being my better self. I got too angry, so the best thing for me to do was hang up. My social views are formed by how I understand my calling and my relationship in Christ. I cannot be swayed. When you try, I feel disrespected. I do not bring up politics and my social views among the siblings. I accept that you think differently. I accept that you see the world differently and believe in Christ differently. I also understand that you felt challenged and hurt by my words, and I’m sorry about that too.
Suggesting that your reading didn’t cover the topics I read was not an insult at all to your intelligence, but a reference to your reading experiences. I apologize for suggesting that too.
I’d like us to recommit to avoiding any conversation about politics or social-cultural views. We can respect each other’s experiences, but we won’t change each other’s mindsets, and I’m okay with that.
I have done my spiritual work. Hopefully, next time – if there is one – I will handle this better.
The transcendent rage comes from the very core of my identity as formed by Christ who calls me to see as he sees, to love as he loves. I am in a constant battle with the world to resist the conforming power of this age. (1/3) Click To Tweet The personal part of the rage is this: I see that I am also still very immature. I know that I am triggered with the on-going weight of the extended family’s disrespect and jokes. I know I feel unseen and discounted by family. (2/3) Click To Tweet So, I must humble myself to be as Christ would be. I must ask his forgiveness for my arrogance and lack of love. I reacted to her through my eyes, not through Christ’s. (3/3) Click To Tweet
Postscript One: She wrote back and simply said, “Thank you for reaching out and apologizing.”
I put together a suggested reading list that I thought might be persuasive. I was wise enough not to send it, but it’s here for you:
- Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates – a National Book Award winner
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – #1 New York Times best seller
- Wilmington’s Lie by David Zucchino – winner of the Pulitzer Prize
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson – made into a major motion picture and New York Times best seller
- The word ‘woke’ is discussed here on NPR.
Postscript Two: Part of my spiritual work to reconnect with my sister is using my mind to think, to get out of my reactive brain and into my executive functioning brain.
I read some chapters from The Divided Family in Civil War America by Amy Murrell Taylor. I read out loud Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech in June 1858 at the Illinois Republican convention called “House Divided.” I studied Matthew 12:22-32 and tried to understand what scholars were saying. And I read several scholars/thinkers online.
I discovered that my experience is not an uncommon one. Recently the New York Times and Siena College conducted a poll about the increasing divisions between friends and family because of ideological and political differences. The poll indicated that almost 20%, or one out of every five voters, have experienced the loss of family and friends’ relationships because of political and social differences.
As a result of the well-documented confirmation bias, we tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and overvalue evidence that confirms them. We filter out inconvenient truths and arguments on the opposing side. As a result, our opinions solidify, and it becomes increasingly harder to disrupt established patterns of thinking. We believe in alternative facts if they support our pre-existing beliefs.
He further writes,
The moment you belittle the mind for believing in something, you’ve lost the battle. At that point, the mind will dig in rather than give in. Once you’ve equated someone’s beliefs with idiocracy, changing that person’s mind will require nothing short of an admission that they are unintelligent. And that’s an admission that most minds aren’t willing to make.
That’s exactly what I felt and what my sister felt. We were challenging our identities and our intelligence. Because of this, I don’t believe that I can be on a mission to change my sister’s mind.
However, if the relationship is such that a mutual conversation is desired, here is one way. Angela Haupt in a recent Times article, “How to Actually Change Someone’s Mind,” summarizes the best thinking of several experts.
- Be calm and transparent (I’m nervous about our conversation.)
- Be empathetic (I understand why that matters.)
- Find common ground (I care about that too. I worry about that too.)
- Tell stories, don’t rely on facts. (So and so spoke of her experience…)
- Practice introspection. (We agree on things. I wonder about this xxx concern.)
- Take a break. (I’m getting tired. This is hard work. Let’s come back to this.)
- Set boundaries. (Let’s agree to xxx).
In our family we could not do 1-6, and I broke all those suggestions in my conversation with my sister. But we can set boundaries, so that we have a meaningful family relationship where we respectfully agree to disagree. And I certainly can be more mature and more Christ-like as we all can be.
Blessings as each of you navigate these very personal and very difficult times. 'The moment you belittle the mind for believing in something, you’ve lost the battle. At that point, the mind will dig in rather than give in.' ~Dr. Ozan Varol (1/2) Click To Tweet 'Once you’ve equated someone’s beliefs with idiocracy, changing that person’s mind will require an admission that they are unintelligent. And that’s an admission that most minds aren’t willing to make.' ~Dr. Ozan Varol (2/2) Click To Tweet
MaryKate Morse, PhD, is professor of Leadership and Spiritual Formation at Portland Seminary. Currently, she is the Lead Mentor for the Doctor of Ministry in Leadership & Spiritual Formation. Raised in the Air Force, MaryKate lived in various states and overseas. With her husband, Randy, and small children she lived in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Peru doing ministry and social projects with the Aymará Indians. She is a certified spiritual director and pastor with the Evangelical Friends. MaryKate continues to explore how spiritual formation and effective leadership result in the transformation of individuals and communities especially for evangelists and front-line leaders in diverse cultural environments. She has planted two churches and served as Executive Dean of Portland Seminary. Morse is also a leadership mentor and coach, conference and retreat speaker, and author including Lifelong Leadership: Woven Together through Mentoring Communities, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence, and A Guidebook to Prayer. MaryKate is married to Randy and has three adult children and five grandchildren. She enjoys being with family, hiking, reading, exploring new places, and playing with her dog, Tess.