Loving Influence in an Age of Fearful Control
Have you ever thought about the difference between “influence” and “control” in today’s world?
I have. Quite a lot. Especially in the years following the game-changing event in American society we commonly abbreviate as simply “9/11.” And I’ve wondered if that day’s terrorist attacks did not traumatize our nation emotionally far more than we yet comprehend. Trauma in the sense of a “loss of control” over our own public safety. Not so much personal trauma as related to private safety issues. But national trauma. Threatening parts of public safety.
Such a renewed focus, even hypervigilance, on safety is not a bad thing. It is the right thing. But as in all post traumatic situations, how we react can either help matters and create more safety or can hurt them and destroy what safety we have left. Our choice of how to deal with circumstances of trauma and danger and loss of control will bring about consequences we must then live with. The wrong choices can produce an ever-escalating round of additional traumatic consequences, however unintentional.
So what choices am I referring to here? What do I mean in saying some are helpful and others hurtful to the cause of our future safety?
What I mean is that our first reaction, our first choice in response to trauma, is typically what I call “fearful control.” Our immediate objective is first to take control over whatever “other” in our world has just acted to hurt us. If the “other” is too big for us to personally control, our next choice may be to summon help from a controlling God or, in human form, a controlling person of higher authority. Perhaps even a President. A powerful group or organization. Or a powerful firearm; a bigger rifle. A bigger wall, or a stronger military. Taking control over “others” perceived as threats to our safety becomes the choice fear itself makes in our lives. When anxious or under threat, our distressed bodies naturally seek out control over our suspected enemies.
I’m counting on you to consider for yourself what unintended consequences might result from fear’s choice for us to take control over others. I’m sure you can figure out for yourself what can possibly go wrong with this chosen reaction to trauma in our lives.
So you may wonder what other choice we even have. I can assure you I have wondered this myself, especially in view of my own family trauma of losing my brother-in-law, Chuck. Chuck, you see, was a passenger on American Airlines flight #11, which was the first plane to hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001. Chuck was for his sister (my wife) and me a personal trauma. Not just a national one. And his death triggered within me a reaction more in line with fearful control over our terrorist enemies. I was ready to at first support our President’s ordering of a nuclear attack upon any enemy-controlled foreign territory. Only to personally wonder with great suspicion what unintended consequences this would then lead to. Prior to such consideration, though, fear’s first choice in my own mind would have been some immediate act of retribution. Hurtful retribution.
Thankfully, another choice emerged within my own thinking not long after 9/11.
The choice of loving influence aimed at helpful restoration, not hurtful retribution, seemed more like the God-choice as expressed through Jesus Christ. It was my first time ever thinking of God as being uncontrolling but instead influential. God as being unfearful but instead loving. God as giving influence “within” his enemies instead of taking control “over” them.
At around that same time, I took notice of my own influence in the lives of other people. Those I was seeking to help in some way. I found myself most helpful not when attempting to control their behavior but instead when trying to only influence their thinking. As their thinking improved, I noticed how much better control they had over their own kinder, gentler behaviors.
This, I've come to believe, is how our uncontrolling God works among us, as reflected by Christ’s love on the cross. The cross of loving influence rather than fearful control. The cross of helpful restoration, not hurtful retribution.
All of which makes me, and maybe you as well, wonder about something else.
What if the Church of Jesus Christ within our post 9/11, post-traumatized nation were to offer ourselves as an example of loving influence in our land? What if we were to overcome our temptation to use fearful control in the pursuit of safety, understanding that saving our lives will bring instead the unintended consequence of losing them? What if we were to choose the way of Jesus when dealing with others who hurt, even terrorize us, or only disagree with us politically? What if we chose to place more faith in love and more doubt in fear?
What if we chose to be the Church of Jesus Christ?
What kind of consequences would more likely follow for us personally? For our nation? Our civilization? Could we help in this way to achieve a more loving civilization? With a more loving political discourse and a kinder, gentler narrative to live out in our own lifetimes?
Then what kind of consequences would likely follow for the Church of Jesus Christ? Could we not then better make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world God so loves?