Thinking Anew – Let us be gracious in our words and deeds

Respecting and cherishing people, acting with grace towards others, is a life-long project. Photograph: Getty Images

Respecting and cherishing people, acting with grace towards others, is a life-long project. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Every day on our televisions we see Russian troops and their weapons of war heading towards Ukraine. At the same time the US and the UK are delivering weapons to Ukraine so that they will be better able to defend themselves in the event of a Russian attack.

The Russians are constantly assuring the Americans and the world that they have no plans for invading Ukraine, which was once part of the Soviet Union. As I write this, all sides are talking and diplomacy is still working. The world’s hope and prayer must be that diplomacy will work and the right words will be used to defuse the situation. Is the shedding of one ounce of human blood ever a justifiable act?

Last Friday week on a visit to India the head of the German navy, Vice-Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach made a number of what one might consider undiplomatic comments, one of them being that he believed that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin deserved respect. His comments went viral and within 24 hours he had resigned.

That word respect caught my attention. Of course it’s part of the human condition when we lock horns with one another we can say and do the most awful things. That’s why third-party mediation can be so helpful in disputes, as Senator George Mitchell showed us. Modern psychology is constantly pointing out the importance of open and honest dialogue. It’s essential that we understand who we are and why we behave as we do.

Shortly after the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu RTÉ radio played an interview he gave some years ago in which he said – with that unique laugh of his – that one of his weakest characteristics was that he loved to be loved. Whatever about his weakness or strength, there is great truth in his words because we all want to be loved, we all want to be respected and cherished. How many disasters have befallen the world as a result of people being felt hard done by something or someone?

Aren’t our spirits lifted when we feel we are acknowledged or appreciated for who and what we are?

Isn’t it the wise person who discovers talent in someone? And so often that talent is found in the most unexpected of circumstances and places.

In tomorrow’s Gospel Luke (4: 21 -30) tells the reader how Jesus, when he began to speak in the synagogue, “won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.”

Obviously, they were taken aback. After all: “This is Joseph’s son, surely?” How could they expect such gracious words of wisdom from this untutored young man? And then later when Jesus is critical of the authorities they are enraged: “They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town .. .” Even with the most gracious of words there are times when individuals and authorities do not want to hear the truth. Jesus in this Gospel is reminding us about the importance of respecting the individual, making sure to speak graciously and listen carefully to everyone with whom we engage. And that in turn will permeate our community and help build a better society.

Vice-Admiral Schönbach might well have been undiplomatic in saying what he said in India. But if the western powers had been more gracious to Russia and shown the people of the just fractured and unlamented USSR when it was breaking up some respect and understanding for the difficulties they faced, our relations with our Eastern neighbours might tell a different story today? A little empathy and less gloating from the West would have gone a long way. Indeed, if Vladimir Putin is the autocrat he is said to be, would a Russia that felt loved and respected have ever allowed him to be their president? Who knows?

But what we do know is that respecting and cherishing people, acting with grace towards others, is a life-long project. We all need to be steadfast in our resolve to be gracious in our words and deeds towards our sisters and brothers. That applies in the corridors of power as much as it does in our daily lives.

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