Good Advice – Distilling the Voices

Dreams are strange. I woke up this morning with a great feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction. Although my sleep had been hijacked by a complex and strange dream, I opened my eyes with a sense of peace for my day. I had received good advice through the night.

As I dressed for my morning walk with Togo, I kept going back to that sensation of calm. But then, my rational voice grew stronger and I began to ask myself, “Who were these people you talked with? What do you know about them? If you don’t know them, who do they represent? What exactly did these dream people tell you?”

Those are all good questions. The same ones I would have asked my clients when I was practicing law. “You need to consider the source,” I would say.

I remember the dream vividly. I was at an encampment. I had obviously been there a week or more and I was preparing to leave. As I gathered my belongings, I was delayed by the realization that I didn’t know how I was getting home. Dreams are chock-full of such odd occurrences. So I joined a group of campers on the long porch of the dining hall and listened in on their conversations.

In a few minutes, the circle of talk pulled me in and there were questions about my work and what sort of life I was returning to. I shared a little, not wanting to dominate . . . still feeling like a bit of an intruder.

Then it came. Advice on how I should proceed to fulfill my destiny. Little details and long brush strokes flooded my mind. Some of it profound and some of it mundane. Some of it opening doors to opportunity. Some of it describing obvious paths I had tried before.

My response in my dream was surprising to me. I just sat and listened. No response. No pushback. I just sat and listened. I felt no challenge from their recommendations and took no offense at their observations. I allowed myself to commune in thought without worry. I knew that regardless of their advice, ultimately the decision to act would be mine.

And I woke up with serenity.

On my morning walk with Togo, we talked a bit about the dream. I talked. He sniffed and explored the treasures of sight, taste, and smell he found along the way. His calm manner of hearing my voice and determining which bits of almost incomprehensible human language to pay attention to brought my thoughts to focus.

Ironically, from the moment I woke, I could not recall the specific advice I had received. I could remember only the voices of those who spoke. I could feel their eyes on me and I could sense that, in those few moments, they cared for me. So, even though I don’t remember their words, I think of them warmly.

Much of life is like that. I’ve had thousands and thousands of conversations. I can remember the particular words that were used in some. But for most, I remember the tone of the visit and I’ve distilled the voices into a memory that will prompt my return to these people for guidance. Some of those voices are long gone from this earth. Yet others are nearby.

I doubt I will never know who the people were in my dream nor the good advice they provided. But I will know their voices. I have a feeling that I will find peace in their incomprehensible language. And, like Togo, I will know when their voices call me to action. For today, I’ll settle for the peace, I’ll listen for more voices, and I’ll be calmed by the knowledge that one of the voices, God’s voice, is always speaking — whether in my dreams or through the tones of strangers and friends who share my journey.

Social Pain and Social Media

Spoiler Alert. This posting about social pain and social media is not lighthearted. In fact, I’m writing because I’m a little discouraged. I even came close yesterday to withdrawing from social media entirely. Who knows? This expression of my feelings may be the last thing you choose to read from me.

Recently we hosted almost 50 of our graduate students in conflict residency on our campus. The week, Residency Session, is a highlight of our work. It brings individuals we’ve come to know in our online courses to Abilene where we have an opportunity to sit with them, eat with them, talk with them. We offer them pointers and instruction. And they teach us much. During the welcome, our Academic Director, Garry Bailey, spoke to the group about the way that we as peacemakers should approach everything we do.  He talked about addressing “social pain.” A little later, I made the phrase a noun. “You’ll be experiencing some intense time with your colleagues in the next week. Don’t be a social pain,” I said. “Be a peacemaker.”

As important issues crop up world-wide and our thoughts are drawn to the building tensions from attacks against Israel and retaliations made in defense, the plight of refugee children at the borders of the United States, the seeming inability of US leaders to address anything of importance, continuing crimes against women and children across the globe . . . I find that a majority of those who choose to embrace the social pain vocation are alive and well on social media.

I favor open discourse. But I’m weary of the thoughtless postings of pass-it-on information. And I’m even more exhausted from trying to save some of my social media friends embarrassment by researching things they’ve posted and quietly providing them with more accurate information. I don’t think they mean to be part of the larger problem. They are simply following a normal human reaction.

We tend to support what we already believe and discount the rest.

It’s true across every spectrum — whether it’s a question of politics, social status, race, and even sports. (Thanks, Lebron James, for helping to reveal how much energy we will invest in the most trivial issues while people’s lives hang in the balance elsewhere.) And it’s true no matter where people find themselves — liberal or conservative, moderate or progressive.

Our constant statement seems to be “I’m right and, even if you agree with me, I’m more right than you are. And even though I have no idea if this particular information is true, it would be good for my arguments if it is.”

As I’ve grown older, I learn more and more that I know less and less. I’m willing to grant that I probably know less on many topics than a majority of people out there. Yet, as I’ve matured, I find myself genuinely interested in knowing the diverse viewpoints of others.

I once worked as a volunteer in a nonprofit organization with a very talented person. He was deeply infected with the need to always be right and the drive to assert himself over others. Over the years, he told me and hundreds of others that we “just don’t understand.” In other words, it was important to him for us to know how ignorant and insignificant we were. He was a social pain and, on top of that, a social bully.

Those who choose to fuel the flames of discord by passing on questionable information aren’t much different. And those who make open attacks are much worse. Particularly those who attempt to thinly veil their attacks in humor. I’m sorry. But jokes about the homeless, the poor, children at our borders, the addicted, enemies of every ilk, are simply not funny.

My guess is that this post will anger a lot of people. I regret that and it is not my intent. However, your anger is your choice.

I’m just asking that you consider rising above your rights to consider your responsibilities and privileges. I’m asking you to leave the social pain status to others. Raise your voice for what’s important, certainly. But raise it in a conversation. When all else fails, ask a question instead of launching an attack.

What do you have to lose?