An Antidote for Our Culture of Contempt
In Luke 6, referred to as the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus says this: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” These words are familiar among Christians, but much more difficult to live out.
Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has released a brand new book titled “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt.” This book is very timely and relevant. Brooks’ main thesis is that we now live in a culture of contempt and outrage that is toxic and unhealthy.
Social scientists define contempt as, “anger mixed with disgust.” According to Brooks, “Contempt makes you unhappy, unhealthy, and unattractive even to those who agree with you. Hating others is associated with depression. Contempt will wreck your relationships and harm your health. It is a dangerous vice, like smoking or drinking too much.”
In researching for the book, Brooks spent time with famous relationship expert Dr. John Gottman. For decades now, Gottman has warned that contempt is toxic in marriages and relationships. Most marriages that end in divorce suffer from multi-layered contempt that has not been properly addressed or unpacked.
Gottman now sees this playing out nationally in American culture on a much larger scale. He says, “There’s been a denigration of respect in the dialogue of this country. It’s always us versus them…Republicans thinking they’re better than Democrats. Democrats thinking they’re better than Republicans. People from the coast thinking they are better than people inland. It goes on and on, and I think it is very harmful.” Social media only fuels the fire. Brooks acknowledges that we did not get to this place overnight, but we must acknowledge our public discourse is far from healthy.
So what’s the solution? For Arthur Brooks, the antidote is warm-heartedness and love, principles that lie at the heart of the world’s great religions. And not just love for those with whom we agree, but love for those with whom we disagree. That’s what is lacking in this culture. We have reached a point where people fear and demonize anybody who does not see the world, politics, or social issues the same way they do.
We need solutions for addressing this. Gottman offers four simple ideas. First, focus on other people’s distress and listen to them empathetically. Try to honestly understand their point of view before offering your own. Second, adopt the “five-to-one rule.” Offer five positive comments for every criticism. Third, understand that contempt is never justified, even if you think somebody deserves it. It is always bad for you. Finally, go where people disagree with you and learn from them. This will involve making new friends and seeking out opinions that you know you won’t agree with. This may not be natural or easy, but it is possible and necessary.
For both Brooks and Gottman, kindness, love, and warm-heartedness are the only solutions to the culture we now find ourselves in. This will lead to deeper spiritual maturity and compassion, which get pushed out by fear and anger. We can all do our part. The time is now!
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