Higher Learning

Dear Sensible Students,

For most, September marks the beginning of Back to School Season. Back to busy mornings and nightly homework. Back to learning. Back to building relationships with teachers and friends. Back to increased stress, mid-terms and finals. For many, it’s the end to the mental staycation of summertime. Unfortunately, it’s not always the start of commonsense and passed tests. We have to go back to basics. Let’s use Alyssa Douglas as an example.

Who is Alyssa Douglas, you ask? She is the 16-year-old girl who, for whatever reason, decided to tweet an appeal for the assassination of our President last night. Yes, right after President Obama delivered his DNC nomination acceptance speech, this young lady tweeted an asinine statement that may very well change her life (I’m not going to dignify the remark by reposting it here). Who knows if she truly intended to make a threat against our President’s life or if she was just “playing around” in an attempt to gain retweets and possibly become a trending topic. What matters most at this point is how we- as elders, teachers, and lifelong learners- respond to such foolishness. Here’s what we must learn:

1. Words have power.  Joking or not, your words are powerful- especially in this day and age. We live in a technologically advanced, social media infested society. Between sound bytes, retweets, YouTube, and Instagram, everything we say and do can go viral within a few clicks of our fingertips. Our words are loaded pistols; they have the power to either protect, or intimidate, inflict pain, or kill. Let’s use our words to uplift and encourage- not tear down and curse. As Abraham Lincoln once said,

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.” ~Abraham Lincoln

Alyssa Douglas’s Twitter account is no longer public (or it has been deactivated) but her words are still etched in the memory of millions in the Twiterverse. You can delete a tweet or terminate your account, but you can’t undo the damage. It’s like trying to unring a bell, unblow a bubble, or unshoot a gun… once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. Done deal. Not only might you hurt someone’s feelings, you’ll damage your reputation (and/or your future) in the process..

2. Actions have consequences. While we Americans can enjoy our right to freedom of speech, that right is waived when it comes to threatening someone else’s life. We can’t just let folks off the hook when their actions violate boundaries. Dismissing someone for their destructive decisions is a detriment to their well-being and possibly even our own.  I don’t know if she ever saw the respectful reply I tweeted her and who knows if Alyssa’s disturbing tweet will lead to her arrest and/or her being questioned by the Secret Service. But I pray that someone close to Alyssa is courageous enough to compassionately confront her hostility and hold her accountable for her remarks. Otherwise, how will she ever learn from her mistakes?

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” ~Sir Isaac Newton

You reap what you sow, people. Sow wisely.

3. It takes a village to raise a child. All too often, many of life’s students don’t graduate to a higher learning of wisdom because no one took the time to correct their ignorance. While many will say “leave her alone. She’s only 16.”, few will take the time to challenge the recklessness of a girl who is just 2 years away from becoming legal. To dismiss her ill-conceived remark as just childish is an error or our society’s behalf. Sure, her parents are ultimately responsible for her upbringing, but they probably aren’t following her on social media forums to see what type of trouble she may be getting herself into (or perhaps, they just don’t care).

When children don’t think any one cares, they begin not to care what anyone thinks. If we, as a society, don’t confront the careless acts of others, then we can’t complain when the offender goes on to serve a life of criminal behavior (that you, dear taxpayer, will ultimately pay for). I wonder how many felons would have chosen a different path in life if someone had invested in their potential rather than devalued their worth…? I wonder how many lives would have been spared from the hands of gun violence if someone reached out to the perpetrator when they first noticed their abnormal behavior…? And I wonder what the crime statistics would be (especially in urban areas) if each one of us reached out to teach someone else that there is a better, more excellent way of life outside of drugs, promiscuity, bullying, violence, etc.

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” ~Margaret Mead

4. Love your enemies. I know, this is far easier said than done. The seemingly “rational” thing to do is to attack via word or deed. But hatred begets hatred. While it saddened me to read Alyssa’s infuriating tweet, it also sickened me to read the hate-filled replies that others posted. Belittling a fool is not a catalyst for change. You can’t successfully fight hate with hate… the very thing that you are fighting against is what you ultimately become. Why perpetuate a cycle of hostility? It won’t solve a thing. In less than 65 characters, Alyssa gave the world a huge glimpse into her character (which, upon further investigation of her crude timeline, one can surmise that her character is in need of an extreme makeover). Clearly, this is a troubled girl. I pray that Alyssa’s heart is filled with love before she self-destructs. I pray that she gets the help and support she needs to become a productive member of society.

No one is filled with such hatred by accident. This is a learned trait. Negative influences are at work somewhere in Alyssa’s life. The good news is that she can learn to turn the negatives into a positive picture. Love is an excellent teacher. The most effective way to kill the hate is by uprooting it with kindness. Take the time to unmask the hurt that’s hiding behind someone’s hatred- the horror of their story. It’s beyond racism, bigotry, prejudice, political affiliation, discrimination, or intolerance. What you will most likely find is a person who wrestles with fear, self-doubt, rejection, and low self-esteem. Rather than discarding the offender as useless “trash” (as many have labled Ms. Douglas), pick them up where they’ve fallen and literally love the hurt away. How do I know it works? The Lord did it with me.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

We will never EVER progress as a people if we don’t start advancing our scholarship of commonsense. We have to stop blaming others for our failures and own up to our own shortcomings. Name calling, finger pointing and tit-for-tat behavior is a bunch of elementary school child’s play. As Christians, we must stop signing up for Superficial Christianity 501 and seriously start doing as Jesus would do. We can’t effectively build God’s Kingdom by consistently withdrawing from Loving Kindness/Tender Mercy 101 just because it’s easier to receive Grace than give it. We must submit to higher learning. We have to grow up.

What grade would you give yourself for your role in resolving conflict? How well are you doing with becoming more Christlike? Are you passing or failing? The next time life offers you an opportunity to do better, make every effort to pass the test the first time. I know I will. Then take what you’ve learned and help another failing student to improve their grades. It’s no fun (and so unproductive) repeating the same class over and over because you were too stubborn to do well, do good, and help someone else do better.

“Make every effort to be at peace with everyone and to be holy; for without holiness it is impossible to see the Lord.” ~Hebrews 12:14

Practically Yours,

~The Practical Chick

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Contending With Conflict

Conflict is a natural part of life. It’s the vehicle that drives us to become persistent in prayer or stubborn in stagnation. It’s the friction that allows us to walk without slipping and the catalyst for change when we’d rather stay the same. The absence of conflict would cause many of us to settle for mediocrity, stunting our own growth. Conflict, when effectively managed, is necessary for our own personal development.

If you’ve ever been fed-up, let down, frustrated, aggravated, humiliated, or devastated by a loved one then you can testify that resolving conflict is often much easier said than done. Left unchecked, unresolved conflict  can lead to a lifetime of misery. It’s like a lethal level of bad cholesterol traveling through the arteries of your emotions, reeking havoc on the health of your heart. It attaches itself to unforgiveness and plagues the progress of intimacy in your relationships. It blocks the path to peace with the plaque of resentment. And often, it’s more damaging to your health than it is to that of your offender.

I’m 5’7″ and barely 120 lbs. So imagine my surprise when I received a call from my doctor’s office last year telling me I needed to lose 10 lbs. Umm, hello lady, I can’t afford to lose 10 lbs! I won’t be here! I thought for sure they got my lab work mixed up with someone else’s. I asked to speak with my doctor and she confirmed the results. Why was this woman telling me to lose weight? Apparently, my cholesterol was borderline high. ‘Scuse me, but I’m too healthy and too young to have cholesterol issues and I’m certainly not overweight. I’m trying to gain weight, not lose it! This was a sho nuff conflict and I needed an explanation.

According to my darling doctor, my borderline cholesterol levels were either hereditary, or the result of obesity, poor eating habits (I once had a dream that I had Krispy Kremes flowing thru my veins. I love Krispy Kremes. With a passion. 🙂 ) or I just wasn’t getting enough exercise. Well, I’m clearly far from obese, but the latter three reasons certainly applied. We agreed that it wasn’t necessary for me to lose weight as long as I committed to exercising at least 3 times/week and eating better. Otherwise, I would eventually have to resort to medication, and I don’t do drugs. So, I opted to just take better care of myself.

The conflict my doctor presented me with was really a blessing in disguise. High cholesterol runs in my family and I don’t want it to run through me. So if I manage it now I won’t have to worry about it running (and ruining) my life later.

When you’re presented with conflict, you can either avoid it or confront it. Avoiding my cholesterol conflict might have been the easier short-term solution. I wouldn’t have to exercise and I could continue to eat all the trans-fatty foods I wanted. I could have folded my arms, rolled my eyes, and sucked my teeth at my mom for passing her family’s genes on to me. I could have screamed and yelled about how unfair my potential diagnosis was. I could have said screw the doctor and opted to never get another check-up. All of that would have been much easier than doing the work necessary to be healthier. And chances are it might just kill me in the long run. I’d only be hurting myself.

Unresolved conflict is dis-easing. Snacking on the “bad fat” of unforgiveness and resentment does more damage to your mental and emotional well-being that it does to the person you are at odds with. Abundant life and deadly strife can not co-exist. It’s like shadow-boxing with yourself and hoping to knock-out your opponent. Pointless. But resolving your conflict and resolving to move past your anger/hurt will reduce your stress and increase the flow of love, peace, and growth in your life. Don’t let it get so bad that you suffer an emotional stroke, a broken-heart attack, or need medication just to function properly. Instead, here’s what you do:

1. Acknowledge your feelings and confront your conflict.

2. Uncover the root of the conflict. After all, most conflict is a result of misunderstanding, not ill-intent.

2. Make every effort to be at peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14) and confess your    contribution to the problem.

3. Feast on a healthy diet of God’s Word concerning your situation. When negative thoughts begin to growl, feed your appetite with applicable Scripture, not toxic thoughts and feelings.

4. Commit to a daily exercise regimen of forgiveness by submitting to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

What conflict are you avoiding? What bitterness and resentment have you allowed to block your heart from receiving God’s peace? Who are you refusing to forgive? Forgiving your offenders does not excuse their offense(s) or let them off the hook. It does, however, loose you from the chains that hold you captive to the hope that your past could have been any different or the lie that your future will never be complete. Forgiveness is a daily exercise in conflict management. Perhaps that’s why Jesus told Peter to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21)… because sometimes it’s a journey and not a destination. Sometimes it’s a process.

Conflict is not avoidable, but it is manageable. Manage yours before it manages you.