Saturday, August 3, 2013

“Turn the Other Cheek” Means to Respond to Injustice/Abuse

I’ve probably labored over this post far more than I should have. However, over the years I’ve watched a lot of abuse and injustice, both real and imagined, among those I’ve worked with, I feel compelled to start the dialogue somewhere, recognizing this is a very big topic that has considerable impact on health and well being.

Most of us have grown up being told to “turn the other cheek” when someone hurts us. The idea is that we forgive and forget. But is this really what Christ meant on his Sermon on the Mount?

“Turn the other cheek,” was actually a non violent stance against injustice. In Jewish custom at the time of Christ, the left hand (reserved for “unseemly uses”) would not have been used. It would have been a backhanded blow to the right cheek, which means a superior hit an inferior. Social equals only fought with fists. Therefore if the inferior (e.g. peasant) were to turn the other cheek, an overhand blow with the fist would be required thereby making the inferior equal to the aggressor. The True Meaning of Turn the Other Cheek

While we’re at it, I might as well mention the other adage -“go the extra mile.” That too is a lesson in non violent protest, By Roman law a Roman soldier could force anybody to carry his equipment 1 mile. In Matthew 5:41 Jesus told his followers 'if somebody forces you to go 1 mile go 2 miles with him', thereby putting them in a very socially compromised position.

Interestingly both Rev. Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi noted the Sermon on the Mount as providing the foundation for their political non violent protests. The basic message is use other means then violence, but absolutely respond when injustice is done to you. Forgive-yes, forget-really, do you want to have to relearn the lesson?

People put up with horrendous behavior, rationalizing it in many different ways-“he didn’t mean it,” “I’ll be the bigger person,” “she’s sick,” “they don’t know better,” “they were really angry (upset, sleepy, hadn’t eaten etc.), “they had a hard childhood,” “they are oppressed,” or they incorrectly quote the Bible about turn the other cheek. In fact, this quote, as it’s been interpreted today,  helps to let people off the “emotional hook” by just ignoring the offending behavior. These types of situations are loaded with anger, fear, jealousy, aggression,, betrayal etc. and aren’t easy to deal with. It’s easier to be a door mat than a door stop.

Whether it’s a caregiver upset by how unkind the person they are caring for is to them, or the person with a serious illness who remains in an abusive relationship because “who else would have me,” the message is the same. When people treat you badly, are abusive or violent towards you, regardless if it’s a spouse/partner, friend, work colleague, a patient, medical provider, pastor, the government or anyone one else, it’s not okay. Further, ignoring it doesn’t change anything and may make it worse.

Consider the following:
• We are each responsible for our behavior, emotional well being, feelings and how we respond to any given situation. If you interviewed a group of people about to go rock climbing for the first time, some will be euphoric, others might have some concerns and still others are beyond terrified. Same situation, but each responds differently. It is for this reason more than any other that you should not take on anyone’s emotional issues other than your own. In addition, since it’s not your decision how they respond, spending a lot of time trying to justify or rationalize their behavior isn’t helpful.

• Start with yourself and examine what you are bringing to the table. If you say or do something that is hurtful apologize and make amends if required.

• Don’t add to problematic relationships by firing off e-mails, sending texts or leaving voice messages before you have carefully thought it through. Attack only leads to counter attack and before you know it, you’re in a vicious cycle.

• Forgiveness is key to your well being. If someone has hurt you, forgive them. As long as you delay forgiveness that person has power over you. The sooner you can forgive, which doesn’t mean forget or feel the need to reinvest in them, the sooner you regain control. "Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy." - Nelson Mandela.

• You cannot change the people around you, but you can change the people you choose to be around. Limit your time with those who exhibit perverse behaviors (lacking in respect, lying, hostile, manipulative, unkind, violent, abusive, mistreating other people etc.). Forgive, offer prayers, compassionate meditation etc. but by no means continue to engage in a relationship that is not healthy for you.

• Unless you say something, or do something differently, people will assume that how they treat you is fine.

• Recognize the signs of abuse.

• If you are a medical provider or a caregiver, if the person is being abusive, you do not have to care for them. By the same token, if you are a person living with a chronic condition, it does not make you any less of a person and you do not deserve to be abused. Resources
-       Help for Abused Men 

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