Turn the other cheek – turn the tables

Most of us have had disagreements with people that did not turn out well. I defend my views, the other person defends their views, somehow after a conversation or two we’re no longer on speaking terms. Often times whatever happens in the middle got personal and it got ugly. The focus of the discussion often turns from the beliefs that the other person holds to what’s wrong with the person. It can be tough to turn the other cheek when we are being personally attacked.

How much harder, then, to turn the other cheek when the attack was always and only about you, personally? What if, for instance, somebody snapped a photo of you when you were not aware of that, posted your photo on social media and started mocking you? Not just claiming that you looked funny, but specifically attacking the fact that your gender isn’t entirely clear!

Are you mad yet? Surely such direct, personal, attacks warrant a full, hasty, and unrelenting retaliation, right? This is justice, after all!

Meet Balpreet Kaur. She is a Sikh woman with some unexpected male-like features, like facial hair. Apparently it’s a side-effect of some hormonal issues or something (I’m not a doctor, you’ll have to read the article to understand the background). Her photo was snapped, without her knowledge or consent, then posted on social media and mocked by many virtual passers-by.

What would your reaction have been if you were in Balpreet’s shoes? Humiliation? Fury? Anguish? I am sure I would have had a tough time being the center of such taunting. Balpreet, though, followed a better path. She was told about the taunting, found out where it was, and prepared a response. She confidently explained the religious basis for her appearance and unashamedly stood by her commitment to live as she understood God to be calling her. She recognizes that she doesn’t fit into the societal norms and she has absolutely no problem with that.

Her comments were so inspiring that many other readers either apologized if they had participated in mocking her, or went out of their way to express their respect for her dedication. Even the original poster of the photo and the associated mockery issued a public, formal apology for his actions.

Turn the other cheek; it’s a more powerful weapon than many people realize. We jump into the justice mode on the turn of a dime, but forget that a better solution is available. If Balpreet can turn the other cheek when the attacks are intended to be about her directly (her appearance is indirectly caused by her beliefs) then how much more gracious should the rest of us be when we are attacked directly for or beliefs (and only indirectly as people)?

What can we learn from this admirable example?

  • First, NEVER mock, belittle, or in any other way attack people. Don’t belittle them for what they believe. Don’t mock them for who they are. There is no justification to do that, even if they started it!
  • Second, expect others to do that to you. If you are willing to stand your ground on contentious issues then it just comes with the territory. Certain groups are more notorious for making these kinds of attacks than others are, but virtually every human has the impulse to make that particular mistake at some point in their life. Be ready for it – and it comes in very many forms! – and be ready to deal with it calmly and rationally, but also be ready to walk away if the need arises.
  • Be prepared. Notice how Balpreet began her response with an explanation. She described her religious convictions, the basis for them, the actions that are required by her faith, and how all of that influences her present appearances. She knew the basis of her faith. She had thought it through, in depth. Think through your own convictions and be prepared to explain them to others when they ask (or ridicule) and also be ready to defend them when challenged.
  • Apologize when necessary. The man who posted the photo was busted; big time! He made the right choice and apologized. Not only did he apologize, he picked exactly the right context for his apology. His mistake was broadly publicized, so his apology was likewise broadly publicized. He had enough integrity to own up to his error, and to do so in the limelight; precisely where his mistake was made. His response was incredibly honourable! When you screw up (and you will; you are human!) you need to be prepared and to have the form of our apology match the form of our mistake. I cover this is much more detail in phase 4 of Arguing with Friends.

Balpreet’s example is a shining instance of how to deal with a difficult conversation. Unlike most of us who will eventually be attacked for what we believe, she was attacked for her very appearance. Attacks on most of us will be indirectly personal but the attack on Balpreet was directly and intentionally personal. She was ready with a kind and cautious response. We should do likewise. Instead of stoking the fire of unnecessary antagonism, the right response may just melt hostilities, earn apologies and rebuild friendships.

A major theme of my website is to share stories of people who engage in the tough conversations of life (religion, politics, social issues) and how they handle them. This story is an example of a positive handling of a very difficult situation, but there are other negative stories I have shared and will share in the future (I have an epic failure scheduled for release on October 9). Do you have a story? Or, did you read a story like Balpreet’s on the internet? I would love to hear about it and perhaps share it so we can all learn lessons and prepare ourselves to better handle difficult conversations in the future.

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