Gratitude is the antidote

On Tuesday, a Pennsylvania State Representative, who happens to be elected to serve in the district I live in, sent out their weekly email. In the midst of the email talking about a variety of topics, there was a section titled “We Stand With Texas.” The representative went on to talk about a letter signed by members of the representative’s party urging the governor and attorney general to “take whatever steps they can to show that Pennsylvania stands with Texas in its ability to combat illegal immigration.”

The third paragraph of the section is what caught my attention: “The statistics we’re seeing in the flood of illegal immigrants crossing the southern border have reached the status of a legitimate invasion. We firmly believe Texas and other states have the constitutional right to defend their citizens when the federal government has not only failed to provide assistance but also impeded their ability to defend their borders and sovereignty.”

Words have meaning. Words like “invasion.” 

Given that a lawmaker is using such a term, I looked up the legal definition of it.  The Law Dictionary defines the term this way – “An encroachment upon the rights of another; the incursion of an army for conquest or plunder.”

I also found an interesting article on the Tenth Amendment Center website which explored the meaning of the term going back to the dictionary that was available when the founders of the nation ratified the Constitution – meaning it’s the definition they would have understood for invasion. The author points out that the founders understood invasion to refer to an armed attack on the nation from a military. The author concludes the article this way:

“Regardless of one’s personal disposition on immigration and military policy, the founders’ understanding of “invasion” did not pertain to mere travel or migration from one country to another.

“On the contrary, the most prominent English dictionary available, the most widely adopted legal dictionary in the American states, and other popular dictionaries of the era all held the term to mean the projection of a physical attack.

“Consequently, the ability to militarize United States borders to stop mass migration is not expressly granted through the originally ratified version of the Constitution.”

Using the word “invasion” certainly elicits a response – or a range of responses. It’s a term that will inflame some, enhancing an already established “us” vs. “them” belief system. 

But such rhetoric has me thinking much deeper than all of that. If you’ve read my blog lately, you’ll know that I’ve been thinking about systems and outcomes. I’ve been thinking about pain and how people respond to it. And I’ve been thinking about what to do in response. 

I’ve observed that there is a lot of pain and suffering. That’s not anything new of course. Pain and suffering are a part of the human condition. What’s interesting to watch though is how people respond to whatever pain and suffering they experience. Pain and suffering come in a variety of forms too. There is physical pain of course. But that’s not the full extent of pain. Pain can also be mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, financial, familial, social, related to identity, meaning, purpose, and more. 

How we respond to pain varies with each person. Some people will lash out against others because of their pain. It’s what they know to do and might not consider that there are other options for dealing with their pain. Some take their pain, are humbled by it, and try to use it to help them see the humanity of others (who are most likely experiencing pain too). 

Another aspect of this has to do with results that we observe. Often when we see cruelty, violence, and fear, we think that something must be broken and that we need to fix it. But what is more likely is that the situation was designed for those outcomes. Cruelty, violence, and fear aren’t just some random outcome to whatever is going on. Those are often designed outcomes. Cruelty, violence, and fear are powerful motivators to get people to do, say, or think a certain way in response. They are a use of force to produce a desired result. 

And cruelty, violence, and fear are also ways of dealing with pain by inflicting pain on others with the hope that it will ease the originators pain. But it doesn’t. It never has. And it never will. Doing such things only deflects the pain, rather than deals with it. 

During a panel discussion that I participated in on Wednesday, a question was asked about where we find gratitude in the midst of really difficult work that often seems hopeless. It was a great question. I pondered the question waiting for my co-panelists to take a stab at it. They all offered great answers. When it came to my turn, I ended up saying that gratitude was the antidote to cruelty, violence, and fear. Gratitude forces us to see the humanity in others and in ourself. It forces us to recognize that everything we have is a gift and the gift is to be shared with others. Gratitude is related to hope. Gratitude and hope don’t ignore what we see – the cruelty, violence, and fear. It looks at those things squarely in the face, acknowledges them for what they are and responds to them by saying, “It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a better way.” Gratitude lays a path forward to live into that better way. 

Gratitude allows us to look at a statement saying there is an “invasion” and to ask the question – what kind of pain is the person experiencing that says such a thing? Gratitude allows us to hear inflaming rhetoric as a projection of the pain coming from its source. Gratitude allows us to respond to such pain and inflaming rhetoric not with violence, cruelty, or fear, but to say “It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a better way. And I invite you do that if you are open to it.” Gratitude isn’t ignorant though either. It recognizes that not everyone will accept the invitation – at least not right now. Some are in too much pain. Some are can’t see the possibility. Some don’t have the capacity. But gratitude remains anyway – ever hopeful. Ever moving us forward. Ever inviting. Ever seeing the humanity of friend, stranger, and enemy. Gratitude humanizes us and humanizes others. Cruelty, violence, and fear dehumanize. They take away from people. Gratitude restores and makes us whole. 

So to the state representative who talked about an invasion, I say this – “You don’t have to talk that way. There is a better way.” I don’t have the policy answers. But I do know that inflaming rhetoric doesn’t do anything to solve the issue and the challenges. I know that emphasizing “us” and “them” doesn’t save anything or protect anyone. And it blinds us to see the humanity of the other. Immigration is not just some abstract issue to be debated. It’s about actual people. They aren’t armed. They aren’t part of a military organization. And they aren’t trying to take land. They aren’t invading, by definition. They are trying escape violence and cruelty and fear. Instead of just turning people away, what if we actually looked at why people were leaving their homes and attempted to address the challenge at the root?  Instead of making the border the central focus of debate, why not look at the origins? Why not explore how we, the US, may have contributed to the problems which would cause people to flee, as well as what we can do to help bring wholeness and restoration to those places so that people don’t feel the need to flee. Why not find ways to work with people who offer different perspectives and solutions.

It’s up to you. What pain are you experiencing? And how are you going to respond to it? By inflicting pain on others, or using it to see the humanity in yourself and others?

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *