Recently, we commemorated 20 years since the Good Friday agreement, and the subsequent peace in Northern Ireland.
Belfast is a different city from the one where I did work experience with Downtown Radio while still at school. Gone are the soldiers and checkpoints, but 20 years on, Stormont stands silent as disagreements and division continue.
Disagreements are a fact of life, we face them every day; in our family, at work, in our community.
We are fortunate to live in a free society with the right to express different views; but all too often disagreements get personal. Instead of challenging ideas we target individuals, instead of challenging principles we target people.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than on social media, especially Twitter. People undermine and attack others with righteous indignation, encouraged by an host of supporters who will justify these actions and endorse a particular world view.
Tolerance and freedom are demanded for one viewpoint while at the same time abuse and victimisation of those with the opposing view are justified and accepted.
In the bible book of John, Jesus commands us: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
We are also told that no-one has greater love for another than laying down their life for them, which Jesus Christ did for us all, irrespective of our world view.
The characteristics of love are described in the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13; “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Unfortunately, all too often our personal experience is contrary to this. Resentment and bitterness creep in where we have been hurt or disappointed, which can reinforce our own negative views. But the bible also talks about forgiveness. “If you forgive people when they sin against you, then your father will forgive you when you sin against him and when you sin against your neighbour.” Like love, forgiveness is a choice. It is not always deserved, but it can free us from bitterness.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi.
We can be passionate about ideas and principles, while still treating others with respect. We can disagree without being disagreeable.
“People are often unreasonable and self-centred. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta.