Nothing Bad Between Us author, Marlena Fiol has written a new blog post on the protests happening in Portland, Oregon.
Photo Source: Nathan Howard in the Willamette Week
A newscaster reported today (August 7, 2020) that “The mayor of Portland, Oregon, a city wracked by nearly 70 consecutive nights of unrest, on Thursday angrily denounced those who attempted to set a police precinct on fire with officers stationed inside as props in President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and said those individuals were not protesters, but criminals (emphasis added).”
Virtuous protestors? Or evil criminals?
In my lifetime, I have never seen so much divisiveness around me: black/white, democrat/republican, protesters/police. It seems we are increasingly carving up the world into the good guys versus the bad guys.
In general, there is some level of agreement among social psychologists, ethicists and religious leaders: It’s good to be kind, fair and just; it’s bad to cheat, murder and steal.
But good versus bad has fueled horrendous conflicts throughout history, and we don’t seem to be learning the lessons history has tried to teach us. The binary labels continue to fuel impassioned destruction today. I use the terms ‘fuel’ and ‘impassioned’ very intentionally. If I believe I’m on the side of ‘good,’ I will be certain that I’m fighting a just cause against an ‘evil’ enemy; and I will believe without a doubt that once the ‘evil’ people have been brought to their knees, peace and goodness will reign.
We’re treading on dangerous ground here.
My guest on this week’s podcast is Arno Michaelis. At a very young age, Arno became deeply involved in the white power movement. He was a founding member of what became the largest racist skinhead organization in the world. He was a reverend of a self-declared racial holy war and lead singer of the race metal band Centurion, selling over 20,000 CDs to racists around the world.
Is he a bad person?
Now, fast forward. Today, Arno is a public speaker, author of My Life After Hate, and works with Serve2Unite, an organization that engages young people of all backgrounds as peacemakers. Currently, Arno is devoting his life to making this a more just and peaceful world.
Is he a good person?
In Arno’s words:
“All human beings share an equal capacity to harm or to heal. If we convince ourselves otherwise, there’s no way to reconcile from that. If we convince ourselves that this group of people are just inherently more violent than my group or whatever — when we convince ourselves that everyone doesn’t share an equal capacity to harm or heal, then there’s nowhere to go from there but violence.”
This is not a theoretical debate.
As we can see all around us, the practical implications are enormous. The ongoing destruction and violence in Portland, Oregon is just one example. We are poisoning even potential acts of compassion with hateful divisiveness if we’re approaching the issue with categorizations of good versus bad.
I believe that human nature is infinitely more complex than either good or bad. We’re all a combination of those qualities. What matters is what we do with them. As Arno said, “My hard shell covered up the insecurity and fear I felt inside — I would say that fear is the basis for all the violence in the world.”
And yet our obsession with good versus bad continues. Did you know that according to a Marist Poll, “being a better person” was the most popular New Year’s resolution for 2018? (Well, OK, it shared the top spot with weight loss!)
I wonder what kind of world we could create if we stopped obsessing about who’s a good or bad person, and instead focused on ways to heal the fear that drives the violence both within and around us?
A Mennonite Missionary’s Daughter Finds Healing in Her Brokenness
This story differs from similar accounts of childhood domination or abuse because it tells the story of the author’s seemingly paradoxical responses to the powerful forces in my life, but doesn’t leave it at that. It sheds light on the social and religious dynamics underlying these responses, giving readers insights into and understanding of her otherwise incomprehensible choices, as she found my way back into loving relationships with her parents and the Mennonite community.