There is a great seafood restaurant near the church I serve. Every couple of weeks, my yearning for a just-like-New Orleans oysterpo’boy or tangy shrimp taco gets the best of me and over I go.
A few days ago, after my lunch companion and I had placed our food order, our server asked us whether we had any “food allergies or aversions” the chef should know about. We said we did not, but as she was leaving our table to place our order, I added, “Actually, I do have an aversion to meanness.” She chuckled, and that was that.
Thank goodness, no meanness was served up that day, but meanness is hard to avoid out there in the world – sometimes within the circles of personal and family relationships.
Meanness takes various forms:
– bullying, excluding, or demeaning another person
– abusing, taunting, or mocking another person
– road rage,
– domestic violence,
– cold-hearted neglect of the most vulnerable among us,
– and the list goes on . . .
Is it naive of me to say that it does not have to be this way? Can’t we check our tempers more often and resort to bitter rhetoric less often? Can’t we take at least some of the meanness off of the menu of our life together?
We Americans have freedom as one of our deepest values. I believe we have the freedom to choose how we will behave ourselves. Concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “The last of the human freedoms is to determine our response . . . in the final analysis, it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone.”
We can choose how to shape our reactions and define our lives by something other than our baser instincts.
The story is told of a grandfather from the Cherokee tribe, who wanted to teach his grandson the most important thing he would need to know about life. He said to the child, “Inside me there is a fight raging between two wolves. One wolf is anger, bitterness, self- pity, envy, and meanness. The other wolf is peace, forgiveness, kindness, joy, and love. Both wolves are strong, and they battle fiercely, not just in me but in everyone, even you.”
The young boy thought for a moment and then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”
The grandfather answered, “The one you feed.”
– Rev. Joanna M. Adams