I used to think that I was different, and always considered myself to be a tolerant and fair person who was above such nonsense...until last week, when I found myself swept up into a disagreement with a friend about some differences in our spiritual beliefs and practices. We argued via email. It was a sad and stupid disagreement that probably destroyed a beautiful friendship.
Curiously, my friend and I actually hold spiritual beliefs that are nearly identical. It turns out that this isn't unusual.
The folks we love to hate in the name of God are often those who have beliefs that are close to our own. For the most part, we don't waste our time rampaging against people with religious views that are alien and weird compared to ours. No suicide bomber is going to try to prove his point by blowing himself up in the marketplace of an obscure New Guinea tribe who worships tree gods.
No, we turn to our neighbors when we want to wage religious wars. The most horrific acts of violence are inflicted upon people who almost believe the same things we do. That's when we really get upset. Look at the conflicts between the Shiites and Sunnis in the Middle East, or the bloodshed throughout European history between Protestants and Catholics. Christians, Jews and Muslims, who have battled one another for centuries, share many core beliefs and even honor some of the same spiritual figures, like Abraham and Moses.
Back to my friend: I was furious that something as sacred as my connection to that which I choose to call God had been judged and found lacking. Even after our e-conversation ended, my mental chatter continued. Loudly. A tape-loop in my mind replayed the specifics of our differences over and over again. I defended myself mentally against what I perceived as his attack and, in my imagination, let him know, point by point, precisely how wrong he was. How dare he criticize my relationship to the divine??!!??
I was the one who was RIGHT, doggone it! My thoughts churned faster and faster with all the reasons I was right. My spinning mind kept me awake that night, and continued pestering me the following day, driving me to distraction.
And then I remembered a little saying I heard once:
The mental hospitals are full of people who were RIGHT!
Oh. Oops. Wait a minute.
There seems to be something inbred that demands that we win at all costs, especially when it concerns our spiritual beliefs; perhaps it's a survival technique dating back to our hominid days on the savannahs, or a way of determining who is the alpha of the pack. Hoping, however, to be vindicated and proven right is definitely not a path that leads to security or peace of mind in today's world.
One of my friends has a motto. She used to be a long-distance truck driver, and she learned this on the highway. She is an amazing, loving person who lives by her motto.
It is a great motto. Think of the suffering, both on an international and a personal level, that could be escaped by adopting it:
I would rather be kind than be right.
(c) 2011, Mary Elizabeth Raines
See Mary Elizabeth Raines' newest novel, UNA, available in paperback or Kindle.