In part one I discussed background and definitions for kindness and charity. If you didn’t read that one, first off you should, but if you’re still not convinced to click and give it a quick perusal, essentially charity is a deep and powerful love for mankind. The kind of love that would motivate you to do anything to help another person. Kindness is how we express our feelings of charity.
This post will deal primarily with some of the barriers I feel that many of us face that either prevent us from developing or diminish our feelings of charity. Part 3 will share some ways to break down the barriers.
As I talk about some of these barriers you might realize that you’ve done some of these things. My intention is not to call out anyone individually as these are things I have observed generally and in many cases struggle with as well. So please don’t feel like I think you’re a bad person if you struggle with these barriers, just take the opportunity to look introspectively and consider if there might be some ways you could improve. (The correct answer is that all of us can improve in all of these areas!).
With out much further ado (although I do enjoy further ado), the barriers:
ASSUMING SINISTER MOTIVES
We all do this from time to time, sometimes in very simple ways. We assume that someone did something specifically to bother us, or that they are a jerk, etc. But I see this most often in regards to political positions. We assume that the other side of the issue is evil, lazy, hateful, and in general the spawn of Satan.
Let me give an example. Trigger warning, controversial subject about to be discussed!
Chances are a lot of you just got in the mood to be defensive about your position and why the other side is wrong, and evil, etc. I see this all the time. A person with conservative leanings expresses an opinion that contradicts the current welfare system. Immediately it is assumed that they HATE poor people! They don’t understand what it’s like. Etc. Etc. Etc.
On the flip side someone says something in favor of the current welfare system and the other side assumes they’re just lazy, they aren’t even trying, etc. etc. etc.
Stop! Take a step back. Don’t assume sinister motives.
So I fall in the camp of having concerns with the way the welfare system is run currently. If you accuse me of hating poor people I might smack you (except that wouldn’t be very charitable so I won’t!). It’s quite the opposite actually. I don’t say this to toot my own horn, or do my alms before men, but you should know before you accuse me of hating poor people that my family donates a decent portion of our income to the poor, I regularly hand food or water bottles to pan handlers on the street, I recently helped in a service project to make “plarn” (plastic yarn) that gets crocheted into sleeping mats for the homeless, and last week I took dinner to a refugee family arriving from Cuba. I spent a good amount of time on my mission serving and teaching people in the ghetto and spent my first year and a half of teaching in a Title I school. So yep, you got me, the reason I disagree with how the welfare system is run because I HATE poor people. Quite the opposite actually, I have qualms with it because I love the people being served by these programs but have unfortunately witnessed generational problems and even oppression that are the unintended consequences of the system and simply feel that there might be a better way to serve them.
Are there people that disagree with welfare that can be hateful and need a charity check? Oh most definitely.
Flip side. As I mentioned above I have had the opportunity to associate with a lot of people with financial struggles. By and large they are not lazy. They are trying their best. They need help. And those that I know that support the welfare system in its current state simply want to help them.
Are there some that are lazy or wasteful? Uh, yeah, a few.
Now we could argue and debate until we’re blue in the face about the merits of both sides. But that’s not my point here. My point is that when we stop assuming the other side has sinister motives and instead attempt to understand their position and feel charity, maybe just maybe, we could have a civil discourse and actually kindly solve some problems.
But also, do take a look at your motivation for your positions, and ask yourself, “What if love [was my] only motive?”
VIEWING PEOPLE AS “OTHERS” INSTEAD OF AS “BROTHERS”
Another barrier to charity that I see is that we label people in other groups instead of viewing them as human beings, children of God- literally our brothers and sisters in the human family. It’s easy to speak disdainfully of groups: Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Whites, Blacks, Mexicans, Illegals, Gays, Pro-lifers, Pro-choicers, Feminists, the Wealthy, the Poor, the “others”. When we view people as “others” instead of “brothers” we have a tendency to dehumanize them, we say things about groups that we probably wouldn’t say about individuals. We make assumptions, pass judgment, and turn them into the enemy. We start to hate them. But we don’t really know who “they” are.
They are individuals, complex human beings, our brothers and sisters.
Here’s another pretty controversial topic to illustrate this point:
Police brutality, the BLM movement, etc.
People have been killed by police officers. I’ve seen a lot of lies, damn lies, and statistics about the numbers. Some people throw out the argument that it’s being blown out of proportion because more white people are actually killed each year than black people, but then there are fewer black people than white people in America so what’s the actual percentage. And we go around and we fight and we lay blame on the “others.” It’s their fault! Insert whichever antecedent for “their” that you want.
What if when one of these horribly unfortunate stories comes up on the news we stopped for a moment and grieved for our brothers. A human life was lost, and whatever circumstances lead up to it, that’s sad, and we ought to mourn for our brothers, the one that we lost and the ones closely involved that will now go through the grieving process of the one lost. After we’ve taken a moment to mourn, then we can calmly begin to discuss what everyone as part of the human family can do to prevent future tragedies whether that’s police training, body cameras, better outreach programs in struggling neighborhoods, better education, or whatever other ideas can be thought of. Then when someone has a different idea than you do, see above, don’t assume sinister motives, try looking at them as your brother.
I have 2 biological brothers. Do we agree on everything? Heavens no! Do they drive me crazy sometimes? Most definitely! Sometimes I tell them things straight up when I think they’ve made a less awesome decision, and things are definitely more peaceful when we don’t live under the same roof. But they’re my brothers, and I love them. I hurt when they hurt, I feel joy in their accomplishments, I worry for them, I cheer them on and support them. And all of that comes ahead of any disagreements on lifestyle choices, political views, religious convictions, or plain brotherly annoyance.
If we could start looking at “others” as our “brothers,” maybe we could love them despite the differences, we could stop entrenching against each other, and we could start working together. We could develop feelings of charity and show them kindness.
MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND THE RESULTING FEAR
There’s an unfortunate amount of misinformation, fake news, and outright lies that are generated and perpetuated (much faster thanks to the invention of something we like to call the “interwebs”). One of my favorite examples of the perpetuation of ridiculous information is that my grandfather, while serving an LDS mission in the late 1940’s in the central United States, was approached by a stranger and asked if they could see the scars on his head from where his horns were removed. This person had been told that all Mormons were born with horns. For the record, we are not born with horns, we are just normal people, ok maybe normal is a stretch, but we are in fact human beings lacking in the horn department.
But imagine for a moment the fear that could result from this misinformation. There is a natural trepidation that comes with the unknown, but if you add on top of it frightening misinformation about the unknown that will result in outright fear. If I thought someone was walking around that might have horns I might become overly defensive which at the least could lead to blocking out otherwise nice people, or worst case scenario, in many cases this type of unfounded fear from misinformation has lead to violence.
On a much more serious note, the spreading of misinformation and outright lies about the Jews is what allowed a nation, which I’m sure for the most part was actually full of very wonderful and loving people, to commit, support, or at least stand by and allow the atrocities performed during the Holocaust. It took some very evil people in power, with some evil henchmen, to convince a lot of neutral people to be afraid, and next thing you know, they aren’t so neutral.
This problem was not isolated to the early 1900s. In fact, in some ways it might be getting worse because of the internet. Fear mongering as click bait runs rampant. Fake news, or at least assumptions without facts are made constantly (and you know what they say about assume).
I see this most often currently in regards to Muslims. The picture that has been painted of Muslims for Americans for years has been very negative and in most respects completely wrong. Do they have customs, traditions, and beliefs that differ greatly from most common American customs, traditions, and beliefs? Yes. Has there been oppression of women in certain areas? Yes. Are there some extremists that have done and continue to do some very evil things with the guise of being for Islam? Yes- but they are few and far between.
I recently read I Am Malala about a teenage girl from Pakistan who was an activist for education and was shot in the head by the Taliban. The book is wonderful, I learned so much from it, but my biggest take away wasn’t something that was explicitly discussed in the book.
I feel like the general public views Muslims as a little more cohesive than they actually are. If you consider Judaism, there are several sects that follow “the Law” with varying degrees of orthodoxy from those that live in small communes and keep kosher exactly, to groups that live their daily lives in a similar manner to the mainstream but still hold to traditions and holidays. The rabbis may bicker among themselves what is correct, but they are all Jews. Same with Christians. There are so many different sects of Christianity, following the same basic core beliefs, and yet practicing it and interpreting it so many different ways. There are some groups that follow a very rigid set of laws, and others that take a more “anything goes” approach as long as you accept Jesus. While the groups bicker and sometimes try to define other groups out of Christianity, they are all Christians.
But Muslims, without knowing much about what they believe, I fear that the picture most Americans have in their head is that all women are forced to wear burkas and can’t leave their house alone, and all men are blood thirsty jihadists. That is so far from being the truth. Within Islam there are also many groups with varied approaches to how they practice. Malala, and particularly her father, are very devout in their faith, and yet less traditional than the picture that has been painted in the minds of most Americans.
It made me begin to realize that many people are judging all Muslims off of misinformation and the fear of a small group of extremists. I would prefer not to be judged as a Christian off of the actions of the Westboro Baptists, so don’t judge Muslims, who are by and large very peaceful, off of the actions of an extremist group.
The moral of the story- learn and research from credible sources before you jump to fear as your conclusion. Think and fact check before sharing something that might contain misinformation. Don’t let misinformation and the resulting fear allow you to stand back and allow atrocities to happen to others.
Don’t let barriers get in the way of developing charity and demonstrating kindness for ALL of God’s children.
Coming soon- Part 3- Breaking Down the Barriers