This is the third in a series of posts I am doing responding to Margaret Wheatley’s questions in her book, Turning to One Another. You can read my comments on the book as a whole here, and my responses to questions 1 and 2, here and here respectively. Her third question is, “What do I believe about others?”
What do I believe about others?
The shortest way to answer this is, “its complicated.” I wish it were as simple as going back to the traditional Calvinist perspective that human beings are totally depraved, to use the theological term laid out by the Synod of Dort. I know this greatly oversimplifies the words from Dort, but basically they said that human beings were totally broken and basically incapable of good on their own apart from God. There was some allowance, especially in Calvin’s own words and not necessarily of those of his followers, for humans to do good on their own, but ultimately it came down to deep sinfulness. It is important to note that this point was largely focused on eternal life – that is, humans can do nothing of their own to effect their own salvation. That being said, the perspective has spilled over into ideas of how humans are in everyday life
History has proven this out in many ways. We don’t need to list the many ways that humans find to commit evil in the world, both present day and historically. It happens on interpersonal levels and it happens on wider levels.
That being said, human beings are capable of incredible good as well. I have seen people act in ways that are amazing in their sacrifice, dedication, persistence, patience, and grace. Many of these actions have been completely unprompted and some even “unnecessary.” Yet they still take place and are amazing acts of love and grace.
Maybe the best answer comes in watching how my children have grown up to this point. at times, in the span of 10 minutes I see them go from acts of incredible love and caring for one another (and for my wife and me) to whacking each other with toys without even really thinking about it. I experience the most amazing acts of love when one on them just wants to cuddle up and love and then times that they simply don’t want to be held at all. Its complicated.
So, the simple answer? Its complicated. I do believe that we as human beings are in need of redemption, but I also believe that we are capable of incredible good. Maybe I am talking on two different levels here – one level focused more on an eternal perspective and one focused on an earthly perspective. Guess that’s why “its complicated” is where I come down to.
Some of the best songs about the human experience come from the music and lyrics of one of my favorite musicians, David Wilcox. He recently put up a blog post about his “musical medicine.” He went through his catalog of music and broke down his songs by a variety of topics dealing with the experience of being human. You can check out his medicine cabinet here.