How do we respond when life falls apart? I shared some thoughts on this in my previous post, mostly applicable on an individual level. But I want to consider the question on a larger scale. We live in a fractured world. Cynicism and distrust have always been players. But they’ve taken center stage in recent days. Much like Lebron and K.D., we’re building our teams around them.
So, what happened? How did cynicism and distrust come to run the show?
I want to share a few factors that have created this shift. In doing so, maybe we can chart a different course, towards unity, compassion and connection. To be sure, this will require an enormous amount of energy and a miraculous coming together. But, healing is possible.
Here are 4 reasons cynicism and distrust are fracturing our country.
“Hurry is not of the devil. Hurry IS the devil.” -Carl Jung
I’m convinced we weren’t created to live with such pace. I’m all for excellence and progress (I really am) but, at some point, we must step back and realize there is more to life than increasing its speed.
And we must ask ourselves what the trade-off is for pushing the limits so hard (because there’s always a trade-off).
At the very least, our overpacked schedules and unrealistic expectations have cost us emotional awareness. Victor Frankl famously said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Do you feel free right now? Really?
The gap between stimulus and response is significantly reduced in a fast-paced. You simply don’t have time to stop, to create space for a choice. We’re left to reactionary, emotion-driven decisions.
If you move at the world’s speed, your emotions you will be your master. And, as I’ve said before, although emotions are great teachers, they’re terrible masters. We never realize that emotions like fear and anger can be transformed into something good and holy. This transformation takes time. And we just hit our stride. So, instead, we suppress them, resulting in bitterness and resentment (in the case of anger) or anxiety and cynicism (in the case of fear).
“Neglecting to keep in close contact with people who are important to you is at least as dangerous to your health as a pack-a-day cigarette habit, hypertension, or obesity.” -Susan Pinker
Loneliness is plaguing our society. I could give you research. But do we really need numbers, here? Think about your own life. When you lose contact with good friends, does your joy increase?
Mine doesn’t. The seasons in my life when I’ve been most content, I’ve been most connected to people I love most.
These connections, however, require time. They require effort. And they require vulnerability. I’ll be honest, I would rather scroll through my Twitter feed than call a friend I haven’t heard from in months.
But, it’s time to ask, what have our timelines cost us?
When we lack meaningful connection with people, our brains go into self-protect mode. We tear down bridges and build more walls. Addiction and numbing increases. Empathy and compassion decrease.
Social media can foster meaningful relationships, but it can’t replace them. And for some of us, Facebook timelines, Instagram and Twitter feeds have replaced meaningful relationships. Friends and family who used give us life have gone by the wayside.
This needs to change, friends. Quality relationships give us life. Maybe, as you read this, you realize you need to call someone. They used to give you life, and it’s been too long. Maybe you used to meet with someone at your coffee shop of choice. Your time together was always encouraging. But it’s been months. Shoot a text.
Loneliness should not be a way of life. It’s a warning sign, a red flag that you’re disengaged from meaningful connection.
Common Enemy Intimacy.
“When a group or community doesn’t tolerate dissent…there is no true belonging, only an unspoken request to hate the same people. This fuels our spiritual crisis of disconnection.” -Brene Brown
Brene Brown uses this term to describe grouping up with folks who hate the same people we do. It’s counterfeit connection, she says, the opposite of true belonging.
Cynicism and distrust are by-products of disconnection. When people come together and unite around a common goal, we feel more connected. Cynicism can’t survive among a united people.
But there’s a right and wrong way to come together. Common enemy intimacy is the wrong way. It’s uniting under an “us versus them” mentality. When groups are defined by who or what they hate, this doesn’t heal the cynicism and distrust. These fracturing things are actually amplified.
In the south, where I’m born and raised, college football is king. In a lot of circles, it’s god.
And while there’s nothing wrong with cheering on your team, there’s something wholly wrong with devaluing or degrading another person (or group of people) because they don’t cheer for your team.
I graduated from Mississippi State University. I love my team. But for years, I absolutely disliked fans of our greatest rival, Ole Miss. In fact, we hate them so much that we say “Go to hell, Ole Miss” towards the end of the National Anthem. Even if we’re not playing them.
Friends, this is not healthy. It divides us.
That’s why, in recent years, I’ve distanced emotionally distanced myself from college football. I enjoy gathering to watch football games with my tens of thousands Mississippi State fans, but the negative energy that was the catalyst for our coming together wasn’t helping me love my neighbor.
College football is but one example. Politics is drunk with negative energy. Sobriety is a rare site whether Republican or Democrat. Everything is their fault. It’s common together over a common enemy. And it’s fracturing us.
We must unite around what Paul describes as “good and holy and true.” The church has a unique opportunity, here. True, even the church is tempted by common enemy intimacy. Some take the bait.
But others, many others, come together under a different banner, Love. When we come together in Christ, we grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We grow in the Spirit, in other words.
And when we grow in the Spirit, we have a powerful message, one that could transform, heal and restore cynicism and division.
Perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. -1 John 4:18
In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron tells a story about a young warrior forced to battle fear. The day of the battle, the warrior approached fear. Fear appeared much bigger and stronger. The warrior and fear both grabbed their weapons. Walking towards one another, the warrior fell down in front of fear and asked, “Can I have permission do battle with you?”
Fear replied, Thank you for showing me so much respect.” The warrior then asked, “How can I defeat you?” Fear responded, “My weapons are that I talk very fast and get very close to your face. Then you get unnerved and do whatever I tell you. If you don’t do what I say, I have no power. You can listen and have respect for me, but if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”
To defeat fear, she says, requires a level of respect, to acknowledge its potential power. But ultimately if we refuse to listen to its lies, fear has no power.
We live in fearful times. I get that. Mass shootings have now taken place in a church, movie theater, school, and concert, among others. We have a lot of reasons to divide, to lose hope or grow cynical about this temporary home.
Then you have the personal fears, the demons we battle every day. Will my kid return home safe? Will I have enough money to make it? Will I lose my job?
Whether we’re talking collective or personal, we mustn’t navigate life with fear as our compass.
Fear only has the power we allow it. But if we allow, fear can tear us apart, drive us into self-preservation mode, destroying meaningful connection with and compassion for our neighbor.
We combat fear with love, Perfect Love, the love of God. When we rest in God’s perfect, unfailing, unwavering, unending love, we have the courage to step into fears.
And that’s ultimately how you dethrone fear. You stand up to it, stop listening to its lies. You must become intimate with fear to beat it. From a distance, fear looks overpowering, an impossible opponent to defeat. If you have the faith to step towards fear, you rob fear of its power. Fear, you see, hates intimacy. If you get right up next to it, fear knows it has no shot.
So, what do you fear? And how can you take a step towards it? Maybe you need to turn off the constant news coverage, the steady stream of fear-based stories. And instead, you choose to do something more productive with your time (which is almost anything).
Do you fear vulnerability with your spouse, being truthful about feelings of pain or anger? Maybe you need to initiate a hard, but liberating conversation.
Silence the lies. Step into the discomfort.
It’s your turn. In a word, what’s contributing to the growing cynicism in our culture? Leave a comment below.
Grace and peace, friends.
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.