Choose any symbol you want. Choose a team’s logo, a country’s flag, a musical artist, or a gang’s colors. The people who support the symbol love it and the things it represents. Likewise, those who don’t support it hate everything about it.
Symbols are undeniably powerful. They can spark debates, violence, and division. They can also inspire meaningful conversations, healing, and unity. Yet, the meanings we instill in symbols are our choice, and these choices are based largely on our interpretations of history.
During debates, we often assert these choices as if they were hard facts. When we do this, whether we love or despise a symbol, we regard our emotion as valid because we believe it to be based in truth. When this occurs, we essentially deny we have a choice about how we view symbols. If we believe that we don’t have a choice because “facts are facts,” we can also easily dismiss information that runs counter to our beliefs.
When we choose our own illusion and falsely believe that it is an inevitable choice because it is based on unalterable facts, it is very difficult to alter our choices. This perhaps explains why facts don’t really persuade us to change our beliefs when we already have firm opinions. We already believe that we have the facts, so any information that runs counter to this is only heard as misinformation or bias.
Eye for an Eye Reinterpretation
These immovable opinions represent either/or thinking, which has its benefits in certain areas of our lives, but not as many benefits when it comes to being a mature person. When it comes to growing into maturity, both/and thinking is much more beneficial. The both/and mindset is what Jesus promotes. For example, Jesus stated, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you, do not resist someone who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39).
In this statement, Jesus offers a reinterpretation of justice when he advises “turn to him the other [cheek] also,” which is a radical act of justice in that society. In Jesus’ time and place, someone of a higher social status, presumably right handed, would backhand slap someone of a lower social status on the right cheek to emphasize his dominance. If the person of lower status were to “turn to him the other [cheek, which would be the left cheek] also,” then the person of higher social status, presumably right handed, would have to ball up his fist in order to strike the person of lower status again. To hit someone with your fist meant treating him as a social equal. By turning the other cheek, the person of lower status is performing an act of nonviolent social disobedience, which is meant to expose an unjust system of higher and lower classes. Jesus offers a “third way” between violent retribution (“an eye for an eye”) and submissive complacency in an unjust social structure.
Benefits of Both/And Thinking
It is Jesus’ type of creative, intentional thinking that we all need in our world at all times. The mostly either/or thinking of political parties and national governments that foments “us against them” worldviews is poisonous. This type of thinking deifies the symbols with which we agree and demonizes those with which we disagree. We slavishly brandish our symbols, whipping them out as a deterrent to information that runs counter to our already-held beliefs. We hunker down behind them retreating to the trenches of myopia.
Jesus didn’t accept the either/or thinking of his day; he knew how stubbornly we hold to our beliefs. In fact, he sought to supplant it with both/and thinking through parables, healings, love, and humility. Jesus brought the ostracized back into community. Jesus redefined justice. Jesus made the undesirables the heroes in his stories. He constantly confounded the dualistic, either/or thinking of his time. We should do likewise.