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Perspective: We desperately need an ‘emotional disarmament’

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By Ricardo Márquez

Before nuclear disarmament, humanity needs a cultural disarmament, the Spanish theologian, Raimon Panikkar, tells us.

In the wake of the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, we have seen the polarization in our country grow even greater.

The deaths unleashed by mentally unstable young men using firearms have profoundly touched us, leaving us feeling rage, frustration and hopelessness.

All this has laid bare how blocs in our society vehemently, and at times violently, defend their positions. It’s difficult for us to have a dialogue, to exchange points of view, without falling into labels such as “right,” “left,” “liberals,” “conservatives,” “loyal” and “off the rails.”

It’s difficult to sustain conversations with layers of complexity, opposing views and paradoxes.

We prefer a language that separates reality into two dimensions, “white” or “black,” which makes it easier to end a conversation to protect ourselves and defend our position, distancing ourselves from the grays, the lights and the shadows that are a part of reality.

Fanaticism grows in complex situations because it’s the easiest fall-back position to evade the tension that comes with diversity of opinion, with differences.

It’s difficult for us to talk about controversial issues in our family, among friends, in our parishes and our cities. Personally, when I’ve had to do it, I wind up feeling a deep distaste inside.

I have come to realize that that feeling comes from my desire to convince the other of his error, from my frustration at seeing his intransigence and blindness. It’s rare to have a conversation in which we listen to the other person respectfully and not just be thinking of our response to contradict what was just said.

We need an “emotional disarmament,” lowering the weapons of our biases, to be able to see the essential and not the accidental. We need to connect with what unites us and identifies us as human beings in search of the truth, truth that we do not own, nor control, truth that is the light that turns on when we offer — with honesty — distinct points of view of reality without falling into absolutes.

It’s not easy to do this, nor does it happen without being intentional, and practicing it. It’s not an attitude that’s imposed, it’s a grace that is received, the result of tirelessly asking: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.”

The problem is not the problem, rather it is how we cope with it that is the problem, the therapist Virginia Satir reminds us. It’s not about making everything relative, nor renouncing our values and principles. We can express them with respect, compassion, firmness and honesty.

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better,” according to the Center for Action and Contemplation. It’s what we express with our actions and our lifestyle, with the joy and inner peace that come from centering ourselves in our Lord Jesus and His message and not in our “ego”:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9), creating fraternity among human beings.

Ricardo Márquez is associate director of the San Diego Diocese’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.

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