Peace on earth and goodwill towards men. It’s my favourite seasonal greeting.
It’s Christmas so it’s allowed to be biblical. But when I hear it my former life as a Bible student rushes back with a question. Is the Bible really giving a blessing to all humanity?
The whole thing reads “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men.” At least that’s how it goes in the King James version (KJV)…the one my family read two times each day, during breakfast and after supper, everyday of my early life.
Right now I’m not thinking about the glory to God part. God is, obviously, not something you can put your finger on. So my sense is that how we give Him/Her/It glory has to be left up to our individual imagination. But giving glory, or at least giving acknowledgement and respect, to something greater than ourselves is worth thinking about if we have any hope of reversing our society’s current slide into narcissism. More on that some other time…
Peace on earth is also too big for me. I used to hope and even believe that one day I would see peace on earth. But I was a child then and now that I only have another decade or so on the earth (if I’m lucky) I am absolutely certain this planet will not see peace in my lifetime.
What I’m thinking about these days is the “goodwill towards men” part of the Christmas card. I mean goodwill toward all humankind. Why are we doing such a terrible job of it these days?
Seriously. Can it be so hard?
You know the pass you give to your family, your friends and even your favourite political leader? You know how you make excuses for their bad behaviour? That’s what I’m talking about. Why can’t we extend that…that kind of goodwill…to everyone?
We’ve never needed it more than we do today. We will not “solve” the climate crisis without it. We will not deal with our healthcare, education, child and family, race, gender or housing crisis’ without it. We will not have peace in our families and our neighbourhoods without it. We cannot and will not make any useful collective decisions that address the monster issues of our day unless at the heart of our thinking is goodwill towards everyone.
But we just can’t seem to do it. I can’t seem to do it. Trumpites draped in stars and stripes…I cringe before I even meet them. Defenders of whiteness…I immediately want to argue. Religious fundamentalist zealots…trigger my shutdown response. I try but there are times when I just can’t find my good will.
I went back to my KJV source and read it again “Peace on earth and goodwill towards men.” Yes. That’s what I want. For everyone.
Then the weather-beaten, cynical old me looked a little deeper. I read the passage in several dozen other translations. Other than the KJV, only a handful say “goodwill towards men.” Most other versions add a qualifier something like “goodwill towards men with whom He is well pleased.” Or “goodwill among men of goodwill.” Or “goodwill among men whom He favours.”
Ah. Therein lies the flaw. The other versions add qualifiers. They describe exactly what we see everyday…goodwill to those in our bubble, to those we like, to those who we deem to be good.
Just like what I read on a Facebook meme the other day “I will be good to people who are good to me…it’s as simple as that.”
It’s no wonder we are stuck with our selves and our same-groups in this adolescent, self-absorbed, narcissism. It’s no wonder we are plagued by the dichotomy of “us and them” with us pitted against rest of the world. It’s what we’ve been taught.
The trouble with much of the Bible is that it’s directed to a same-group. Right from the start the book is about a chosen people…and an unchosen. That sort of thinking might have worked in the past but now it’s time push our western cultural teachings to another level. There are things we need to relearn. (I can’t speak for other cultures but I from what I can see they aren’t doing a super job of embracing difference either so this is likely more than a western problem.)
Goodwill to everyone? Sigh. We aren’t even close. We haven’t grown up enough yet. And we won’t get there unless we get out of our tiny selves and our tiny same groups.
So I’m going to start with my tiny self. It’s my personal challenge. Sharing goodwill is my 2023 New Year’s resolution. And I don’t mean goodwill for all the people who I find interesting. I’m talking about the people who rub me the wrong way…the ones who have done me wrong…the ones who have no goodwill for me. It’s on the edges of easy that the real work needs to take place.
I’m not giving up on goodwill for all humanity. Even though it feels like an almost impossible global challenge in our colonized world where the planet’s peoples share the same neighbourhoods and hallways and smell what everyone’s cooking for dinner. And in our technological world where a quest for truth is no longer the ultimate journey but as easy as a quick scan of your own algorithm on the Internet.
Our predicament is bigger than the 1%. It’s bigger than corporations. It’s bigger than which media we listen to. It’s bigger than who we vote for. It’s bigger than the secret power mongers aiming to control the world or whether Trudeau or Fauci is telling the whole story.
It’s about listening to our planet writhe in pain. It’s about feeling the loss of our fellow creatures. It’s about putting ourselves into perspective and getting humble. It’s about going beyond how right we think we are, what we’ve been taught and what comes easy.
In 2023 let’s take it up a notch. I’m going to try. And if you’ve figured out how to do it can you let me know?