I read an article recently, entitled, “Go where you are celebrated, not just tolerated.” The title says it all, really, and while I want to subscribe to this little tidbit, I know that it is not what Jesus would do. I should say that I write this knowing that some of those who simply tolerate me will read it and I can’t be completely sure that I write it not for them, but as an encouragement for those people who, perhaps feel the same as I do. I have often wondered if it is just me but as I was watching the final season of Downton Abbey (I know, I am so behind) and got caught up in the story, my affiliation to the characters shifted (one of the rules of screenplay writing is that every character be relatable in real life). You see, throughout the show I have often found myself relating to the Dowager, played by Maggie Smith. She is quick-witted and always needs to be proper and right. Her quips are lines I could picture myself saying, as could my husband but in the last season, I wondered if I was more like Thomas Barrow, a footman. While Barrow can be conniving, something I can confidently say I am not, he tries to start anew each time a new staff member comes to the house and yet is hated by most. Carson, the butler, also teeming with propriety, is always taking shots at him and the pressure is on for Barrow to find a new job – there is no secret about it. Barrow eventually succumbs to the insults, despite being a good servant, and tries to take his own life – an attempt, which is unsuccessful.
I have been told my whole life that I have a bad personality. Not by all, but by the bold few. I am a classic INTJ (Mastermind or Scientist). The only problem is that my personality is compounded by life events, which have required thick skin and, on a completely superficial level, my appearance. This combination of factors makes me extremely intimidating to most people at first meeting. I can come across as snobby, especially in a large group because I don’t like large groups and want to retreat into myself or the nearest corner. It also means that while I say things exactly as I mean them, people often read into them and take simple statements as insults. I hurt people without meaning to and often without even being aware of it but the truth is, I am anything but malicious. I hate no one and am quite content to disagree (my convictions are strong), no harm taken, no grudge held. Inevitably however, eventually, someone comes out and tears a strip off of me for my poor behavior. What I think they often forget however, is that just because I come across as confident and black-hearted, I do still have feelings and when something like that happens, I want to isolate myself and cut off the world yet again. It’s too hard. Despite endless efforts to soften my tone, include multiple salutations and passive language, such as: “perhaps”, “maybe”:, or you “may want to consider”, or go to events when I would rather cuddle up at home with a book, I always, surely come across poorly and with mal-intent to certain personalities.
I am sure Barrow felt the same way and Carson, like so many others seemed to forget that Thomas had feelings. When Carson learns of Thomas’ suicide attempt he quotes the title of John Donne’s beloved poem, “No Man is an Island.” There are many insinuations that could be taken from this quote, but I see it as the realization that no matter how undesirable Barrow was, he was still human and in being human, connected with the rest of humanity. No man should live in isolation.
Recently, I have also been reading, Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this short little publication, Bonhoeffer speaks of how community should not be taken for granted. You see, Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together whilst involved in an underground seminary in Nazi Germany. In North America, we dwell in an unique pocket of history unlike many before. We are comfortable, relatively safe, free to dream and believe it is our right to be in community only with those we see fit. We work endlessly to fashion communities that suit our vision and our ideals. One of Bonheoffer’s main points however, is that community is not something we create. “It is a gift of God we cannot claim…Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” (I wrote a post on this, which you can find here.)
Quite on the contrary, Joel Osteen said, “Don’t try to convince anyone that you’re a good person. Quit trying to win someone over who isn’t kind but only tolerates you–you don’t need their approval. Be kind, be respectful, but you don’t have to stay… go where you are celebrated. Keep living forward and trust that the right people are there. You never need convince anyone to love you.” In one way, I believe he is right. I don’t have to convince people to love me but if we look at the life of Jesus, he was never where he was celebrated and yet, never tried to convince anyone that he was a good person, only that he was the Son of God. He got two days to be celebrated (his birthday and Palm Sunday) but most of the time, he was rejected because he spoke truth. My maid of honour at my wedding said in her speech, that I pursued truth more than anyone she knew then she told me she couldn’t be friends with a person like me.
In my “community”, I am more often tolerated, as opposed to celebrated and yet, I can’t help but wonder if that is good enough reason to leave. I feel as though they want me to leave or, should I choose to stay, I must conform to their ideals. The only problem with that is that, in doing so, they would not see my contributions as meaningful. It is almost like my personality is a handicap and like so many individuals with disabilities, I am undesirable as a result. Inclusion, however, means recognizing that EVERY PERSON has something to contribute and EVERY PERSON is to be celebrated, not just tolerated.
Building healthy happy communities is not about filtering out the undesirables. It is about seeing each person as a part of the greater continent with a meaningful contribution.
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” – John Donne
Lyrics for Black Flies by Ben Howard can be found here.