“Never speak disparagingly of those who have contrary opinions.” — Vincent de Paul (CCD, 7:240)
This little piece of counsel from Vincent is certainly tough to apply these days, given our often-polemical public discourse. However, there is certainly some wisdom to be found in his words. Speaking disparagingly of another will rarely lead to any insight or transformation on their part. Rather, such an attack will likely lead to deeper defensiveness and resistance. While a disparaging comment might selfishly bring us a moment of proud satisfaction, it is rarely a means to achieve our ultimate end-goal of a human community that reflects justice and love.
How might we shift our perspective when dealing with others whose contrary opinions or actions stir intense feelings in us? It may be as simple as pausing for a moment of self-reflection before speaking or posting a comment on social media. Even with just a few deep breaths, our anger or bitter emotions can subside somewhat, at least enough to enable us to think more clearly about our objectives. We might even find that the deeper source of our judgment lies within our own psychological projections and anxieties. Or, perhaps we might learn to approach others whose perspectives differ from our own with love. Such a shift can enable us to recognize the ways in which a person is often a reflection of their life experiences, environments, and relationships. Our thoughts and feelings may also change when we realize our own complicity in social, economic, or political systems that have affected the other person – and then we can move our attention and energy towards transforming these systems.
Whatever may be called for in any particular situation, we benefit from Vincent’s wisdom. He seemed to understand that change occurs more often through the power of relationships than through the imagined brilliance of our arguments or the sharpness of our critiques. Which people do you find it most difficult to approach with love and understanding? How might approaching them with a more charitable view, as Vincent might suggest, shift your perspective?
Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry