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Consideration

By Mike Ruffin Some of you are familiar with Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot’s 1971 song, ‘If You Could Read My Mind.’ It’s a great song. The song was inspired by the divorce that ended Lightfoot’s first marriage. In the recorded version of the song, Lightfoot sings, If you could read my mind, love, what a tale my thoughts could tell. Just like an old time movie, ’bout a ghost from a wishing well. In a castle dark or a fortress strong. with chains upon my feet. But stories always end, and if you read between the lines, you’d know that I’m just tryin’ to understand the feelings that you lack. Lightfoot and his first wife, Brita Ingegerd Olaisson, had two children, Fred and Ingrid. At their daughter Ingrid’s request, Lightfoot started singing an altered version of the last line. Now he sings, ‘I’m just trying to understand the feelings that we lack.’ As his daughter pointed out to him, divorce is seldom only one partner’s fault. Lightfoot changed the lyric out of consideration for his daughter’s feelings. Perhaps he took his ex-wife’s feelings into account as well, albeit belatedly. Some folks will take Lightfoot’s lyrical adjustment as a sign of weakness. They’ll ask, ‘Why should he care what anybody else thinks?’ Some folks will also take his daughter Ingrid’s request that he change the lyric as a sign of weakness. They may call her a snowflake or something similar. I think that, while it is right and necessary that we speak the truth, it is good to do so with as much consideration for others’ feelings as possible. It’s always good to think about how our words will affect other people. I recognize that sometimes that’s difficult. For example, I don’t know how to be considerate of someone’s racist, sexist, or otherwise hateful and prejudiced attitudes, words, and actions. Besides, any consideration I might try to have for them disappears in light of the consideration I must have for those who get hurt by the attitudes, words, and actions of people who practice and promote racism and sexism. I guess we have to leave the hateful people aside, except for praying for them and trying to offer a positive witness to them. They’re not going to contribute to any solutions, anyway. Most of us are in this together, though. Being considerate of each other’s feelings is just basic kindness, which we can never have enough of. Even if telling the truth means that I must disagree with or challenge your perspective or position, I don’t have to try to harm you. But it’s hard to speak the truth in a loving way. That’s true for several reasons. For one thing, it can be hard to know the truth. The truth we know is the product of our experience. We need to try to understand why we think we know what we think we know. We need to try hard to be as informed as we can be about the facts of a matter. For another thing, even when we’re convinced, after we try to filter out our unfounded assumptions, inherited biases, faulty conclusions, and emotional reactions, that we know the truth, it can be hard to say it. This is especially true if the truth we need to say is contentious or controversial. We might be afraid that our speaking will make things worse. Or, we might be too considerate of others’ feelings’”yes, I think that’s possible’”with the result that we won’t risk saying anything that might offend someone, even if it needs to be said. For a third thing, it can be hard to speak the truth in a way that takes other people seriously’”that treats them as equal partners in the human enterprise. The key to being considerate in expressing our viewpoints is to recognize that everyone is a fellow human being and to treat each other with the respect that our awareness of our common identity should produce. It is unfortunate that we often can’t have civil and constructive discussions about the issues that really matter because our default settings are (1) to take things personally and (2) to attack others personally. It’s interesting how out of the same mind, mouth, and social media account can come these two statements (or approximations of them): (1) ‘I’m going to say what I think and I don’t care how it affects anyone’ and (2) ‘How dare you say that!’ Too often we don’t want to give others the same respect and consideration we expect. I believe that one way out of our unfortunate situation is to learn what Gordon Lightfoot learned that led him to change his song lyric: it’s not about you and it’s not about me’”it’s about us. Being considerate is about being kind, and we can always use more kindness. You may not think that we need to be kind and considerate as we deal with the challenging issues and situations confronting us. If you don’t, I’ll try not to take it personally.

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