While I was busy over the summer having a baby, my town prepared for an influx of thousands of people as the Gentlemen of the Road music festival seized it. One of my clients sat poised to make the most profit in a singular weekend in the history of their 10+ year business. As much as I tried to be useful and effective, I was not the person to make their dreams come true.
So their resource for building websites and creating their print marketing materials worked with them to re-image and re-brand and position them for the big weekend. Part of this included an element of what I had been providing to them for nearly a year in terms of social support.
At first I was hurt. And a bit scared. And self-conscious. Were they not happy? Did they not believe in me? But I took myself out of the equation and realized: they needed something I could not provide. So they found it. Actually, it had a lot less to do with me than I believed it to be.
I met the woman who had helped them with the big campaign. It would have been easy to cast her the villain, the competition, to play the “I can do anything you can do better” game. But I decided that she wasn’t the competition. She was someone doing her job, and doing it well. She was a partner in making one of my clients very successful. Of course our skills overlap, but I don’t do a large chunk of what she does. And she doesn’t do what I do at the ground level. We’re the same. But we’re not.
When I took this other woman out of the role of the adversary, I suddenly lived with a much greater sense of peace. I didn’t hide my head to the fact that my clients could decide to cut my services to use her, but I realized it’s because she has something to offer that I don’t (namely, photography and website building). She’s not the enemy, she’s simply doing a good job.
I began to wonder what it would look like if we stopped assuming that everyone was the competition. I know all the business-driven people will object to my line of thinking, but I don’t really come to the world with an eye for business, but rather an eye for the holy. I need to make a living, but that’s not my purpose, so it’s not what drives me. (My husband and my father probably just face-palmed to that one. Sorry.)
I mean it. What if we stopped looking at everyone as competition and began to appreciate what they had to offer? When this woman began to be the person building my clients a beautiful website and providing beautiful photographs, then we were suddenly partners in building and serving a client. The greater good was served.
Today of all days begs me to ask what it means to be a peacemaker. How do we seek peace? As we reflect on our feelings of being attacked while we (as a country) contemplate action in Syria and beg for peace and other alternatives, I have to wonder at a much deeper level what it means to seek peace in my life and in the world.
I don’t believe seeking peace means falsely admitting wrongs. I don’t believe it means “taking it” like a pansy. I also don’t believe it means living poised for retaliation, ready to defend any and all wrongs for the sake of being right.
The more I think about it, I believe it means living in a posture that sees people – all people, even those we disagree with and don’t enjoy – as people. Humans. Who are trying to do the best with what they have. Humans who, like myself, aren’t perfect. And maybe in their imperfection, they too forgot to see me as human.
We forget that, at the root of it all, she or he is made from the same dust. We spin around on a shared orb, needing the same sun and moon to shine to keep us alive. We don’t have to assume someone else’s success and good fortune came at the cost of my own; at the same time, we need to live in question if our own good fortune is coming at the cost of someone else. We don’t have to live in competition with everyone we meet.
So what does this look like? Not just in foreign relations politics, not just in business, but in our daily lives? It means realizing my husband had a tough day at work while I served the homefront. It’s not a competition for who had the tougher day. It’s realizing Miss M isn’t trying to be difficult, she just feels sick. It’s seeing the well-dressed and beautiful moms at preschool pick up and not deciding that they have it all together, that their finances are in order and they would get the asking price on their house while I pull my sick kids away from the TV and put them in the car in their pajamas because it’s the only means of functioning. It means not assuming the buyers on our house won’t bargain because they want to take advantage of us.
I think peacemaking means giving what I need the most: just a little bit of grace to make it through this moment.
It’s obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulations of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
But what happens when we live God’s way? he brings gifts into our lives, much the same way fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Galatians 5:19-23, The Message