Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking • For September 17 weekender, 2016
David W. Hegg
We are becoming a nation of protest, and that is something near and dear to my heart simply because I am considered a Protestant. That label was put on the men and women in the 16th century who “protested” against the abuses of the medieval church. However, it was never a label they took on themselves or considered proper. They had no desire to be known for what they were against. They intended to fly the banner of what they considered true, best and right. The were successful because they became known for what they were for.
Today’s protests, for the most part, are against something. Tragically, being against the flag, law enforcement, a political party, our Union, and even God has taken on a popularity that would be laughable if it weren’t so misguided and dangerous. But even if those protesting our flag, our police, our elected officials, our country, and the Almighty have something valuable to tell us, they have clearly chosen the wrong vehicle for bringing about substantive change.
Real change never comes through the inciting of emotion. While playing to the emotions does cause action, it is usually short-lived, and dissipates as soon as some other emotional trigger is pulled. For example, every January our nation becomes emotionally committed to losing weight, gaining fitness, and pursuing a new course of healthy living. We all do it, and we all know the foundation of such commitments can’t bear the weight of lasting, life-altering change. Simply put, emotion, and good intentions can’t fuel life change.
Real change starts, not with emotion, but with a core, ethical commitment borne out of at least two discoveries. First, there is the recognition the present way of doing things is truly harmful. But for real change to be long term, this first discovery must be grounded in undisputable truth. If there is even a hint the present course is fine, the determination to change will eventually evaporate. If, in your mind, you find a place to believe eating donuts and a half-gallon of ice cream every night before bed actually helps you sleep and wake refreshed, you’re a fool to think you can kick the habit.
Secondly, and most importantly, the reason for change must be so positive, so understandable, and so attainable that it far surpasses the pain change will bring. In other words, we will endure pain and discomfort to the extent we see it purchasing something of far greater value.
Given this, those who want to bring change must realize they can’t just be boisterous about what they’re against. To protest the National Anthem says nothing about the good they believe should replace the bad. To be discourteous to the flag, to the nation, to law enforcement, or to anyone for that matter, doesn’t motivate anything more than the negative outbursts of other shallow, emotionally sunburned onlookers. For progress to come, and for real change to take root, truth must undergird the need for change, along with a positive presentation of the good change will bring.
In the 16th century, those who saw the abuses of the medieval church rallied for reformation. They wanted to reform the church they considered deformed. But they didn’t just shout about what was wrong. Instead, the put forth the standard according to which the church needed to reform itself. They marshaled their efforts around bringing back the Bible, in the language of the people, as the positive capable of righting the negatives. They determined to be known for something - the Bible - rather than merely against the abuses of the church. That’s why the Reformation took root, and spread across Europe, and around the world. Real change comes when people are for something that has truth on its side.
As I stand and look over the landscape of our great country it is easy to recognize we have some serious fractures. But emotional protestations, based on opinions and selected anecdotal evidence can never win the day. When it comes to righting wrongs, truth must be the foundation of our attempts, and there simply must be a clear picture of what right looks like. Until we figure that out, no amount of dishonoring the current state of affairs will do anything more than further divide us.