I Must be Fair. Say it Again.

I must be fair—for if I’m not fair to other people, I’m not worth being understood myself I see.

George MacDonald “The Princess and the Goblin”

I am currently reading The Princess and the Goblin to my children, and if you have never read this book please do, it is simply wonderful. We have just reached a turning point in the story where the princess saves a miner named Curdie, and the two have a clash over reality. The princess insists her grandmother has saved them and is standing in front of Curdie; yet Curdie sees nothing. Curdie refuses to believe the princess (who is right) and leaves. It is at this point where this exchange happens

[Grandmother] “…But in the meantime, you must be content, I say, to be misunderstood for a while. We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there is one thing much more necessary.”

[Princess] “What is that, grandmother?”

[Grandmother] “To understand other people.”

{Princess] “Yes, grandmother. I must be fair—for if I’m not fair to other people, I’m not worth being understood myself I see. So as Curdie can’t help it, I will not be vexed with him, but just wait.”

Does the Princess concede to Curdie’s view of reality– NO. Does she try to change his mind– not overtly. Does she stay charitable towards him– yes. Does he eventually change his mind and see reality from her perspective– yes but not until much later. Frankly, I think we could all stand to learn a lesson from MacDonald’s children’s story.

We have millions of people in our country arguing over perceived political reality. And often the grown leaders argue in ways I would not tolerate from my children. We have news anchors stirring up passion on every broadcast, without trying to give honest assessments of situations. I guess in some ways I am not surprised that tensions are high.

The difficulty is everyone seems to be demanding to be heard, to be respected, and to be right without stopping to consider, as the princess did, if they are being fair. During the fight, neither the Princess nor Curdie took any consideration for the other’s lived experiences. Rather, each projected his or her own lived experience onto the other. The Princess knowing she could see her grandmother assumed everyone must see her also. While Curdie having no observational category assumed the Princess must be “telling stories”. In the end this produced an argument which led to their separation.

As I talk with people, I find whether the issue is race,, immigration, economy, religion, or most any other issue in our political landscape many people are unwilling to be fair to the other side, in part (if not wholly), because they have not actually listened to the other side’s experiences, perspective, and arguments. Right now some readers will be jumping to say, “But they’re racist [or socialist or fill in the ________]? And that proves my point. The reason it proves my point is that often people are judged by the most extreme fringe of their group. How many of my friends on the left will say all Trump supporters are racist, when so many of my friends who voted for Trump are distraught over the racist attitudes held by some of his supporters. Why do they stay loyal to Mr. Trump– they do not feel as if they are treated fairly by the other side. And they have a point. My friends on the Left do not listen to them or show any sympathy for their thoughts and feelings. There is little if any effort to understand their perspective. Ultimately this creates a breakdown between these two and unlikely bedfellows are created on the other side.

“Blessed are the peacemakers”

Jesus

I am trying to be a peacemaker in my world and that means extending fairness to those who legitimately disagree with my cherished beliefs. This is the core of John Wesley’s message when he said,

Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.

What is he saying, be fair-minded, hear each other out, take the time to show consideration for the beliefs and opinions of others. In the story the Princess had a better perspective of reality than did Curdie; yet, had she not committed to treating him fairly he would have never seen reality as he truly should. She would be right but without any fellowship with him. The same is true for us. I might indeed have a far better perspective on the nature of reality than any opponent of mine; yet, if I do not treat those opponents with an open mind and good intentions there can be no community. We, the Church, claim to be in many ways the ultimate expression of community; we need to take the lead in showing fairness to those with whom we have disagreements.

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