Some may remember the U.S. House of Representatives condemnation of President Trump. What may have gone unnoticed in that process was the actions of Representative Emanuel Cleaver. Representative Cleaver was the politician that left the chair in the midst of the rancorous debate between the Democrats and Republicans. It wasn’t just his act of courage to draw attention to the spectacle unfolding in the People’s House, but his reasoning shared in the aftermath that drew my attention.
Suspend for the moment his political affiliation and focus instead on something he said in the wake of the debate. In a statement, Congressman Cleaver stated:
“I don’t call anybody a racist. Even if I know deep down in my heart that they are, I don’t do that because once you call someone a racist, you essentially shut the door. There’s no communication.”
This statement showed not only courage for a member of the Black Caucus, but a moment of clarity and a lesson for us all. You see, whenever we label someone or call them a name, we close our minds and heart and erect a wall where any further discussion is no longer possible. We essentially dehumanize the object of our name-calling. I’ve heard and read statements that someone is an ‘idiot’, ‘shithead’, ‘racist’, or any number of other derogatory terms. Yet when you label someone or call them a name like that, under any circumstance, it’s more a reflection on you than it is the object of your focus.
Remember the old childhood saying that I’m rubber you’re glue – whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you? Well there’s deep spiritual truth to that. No matter how emotionally charged you may feel, calling someone a name or labeling them is as much a reflection of what lives in your heart, then what may be in theirs. It’s fair to condemn people’s actions, particularly when they are harmful, but you step into a dark space the moment you label the person. Name calling is simply a form of bullying and by doing so, you become the bully. None of us knows for certain what lies in another’s heart or spirit. We can get glimpses based on their actions (especially repeated actions over time), but it’s not our place to judge.
What is lacking in our world today is the kind of civility and fairness demonstrated by Congressman Cleaver. While you may not agree with his politics and perspective, I think we can all acknowledge the maturity and courage it took to take that position. Calling people names is an act of immaturity and immediately terminates any chance for reasonable dialog. The object of your disdain simply closes their mind and heart to anything more you have to say. Instead of debate and discourse, there is animus and anger. Can you recall any situation current or past where name calling was the catalyst for positive change? I certainly cannot.
This is a challenge to maturity and civility. Channel your frustration toward others into an opportunity for openness and discovery. When confronted with people and situations that surface anger and frustration, can you focus that energy into a place of love and light. What does your reaction say about who you are? What can you learn from this situation? Can you step forward with courage into the fire of your emotions and reach out to the target of your anger with love and compassion? Can you transform a toxic soup of hateful thoughts and feelings into a place of peace within yourself?
So next time you’re about to spout off some expletive-laden tirade of labels and name calling, try to pause and shift to a higher place. Even in the face of bad behavior, be the light and take the road less traveled that elevates you and everyone else. It may not change the other person, but it will lift your spirit higher. Be the bigger person and choose not to let the darkness stain your heart.
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