In reading the preface for C.S. Lewis’ George MacDonald I came across this little gem. I have been considering the concept of emancipation from oppressive ideologies for a while, and observing how people (myself included) react to and come through that process. The outcome (naturally) falls into a spectrum as wide and diverse as we are one from another. But the question in the back of my head is always the same – what is right, or true? What is the right balance? What is the best solution, the one that answers our needs and yet still manages to address the concerns of others? (After all, no man is an island.) It seemed to me that if we must tell the truth about a thing, we should remember to do just that – tell the truth. But to tell the truth without forgetting to tell the whole truth; including the pieces we would perhaps prefer not to recall for fear they will not corroborate our side of the story. How can we expect that others treat us with fairness and justice, and forget that in order for that to work for humanity, it requires that we also do the same to others in return? I thought Lewis’ explanation of MacDonald’s journey through the same terrain many of us have traveled enlightening.
“George MacDonald’s family (though hardly his father) were of course Calvinists. On the intellectual side his history is largely a history of escape from the theology in which he had been brought up. Stories of such emancipation are common in the Nineteenth Century; but George MacDonald’s story belongs to this familiar pattern only with a difference. In most such stories the emancipated person, not content with repudiating the doctrines, comes also to hate the persons of his forebears, and even the whole culture and way of life with which they are associated. Thus books like The Way of All Flesh come to be written; and later generations, if they do not swallow the satire wholesale as history, at least excuse the author for a one-sidedness which a man in his circumstances could hardly have been expected to avoid. Of such personal resentment I find no trace in MacDonald. It is not we who have to find extenuating circumstances for his point of view. On the contrary, it is he himself, in the very midst of his intellectual revolt, who forces us, whether we will or no, to see elements of real and perhaps irreplaceable worth in the thing from which he is revolting.
“All his life he continued to love the rock from which he had been hewn… His best characters are those which reveal how much real charity and spiritual wisdom can co-exist with the profession of a theology that seems to encourage neither. His own grandmother, a truly terrible old woman who had burnt his uncle’s fiddle as a Satanic snare, might have appeared to him as what is now (inaccurately) called ‘a mere sadist.’ Yet when something very like her is delineated in Robert Falconer and again in What’s Mine is Mine, we are compelled to look deeper – to see, inside the repellent crust something that we can whole-heartedly pity and even, with reservations, respect. In this way MacDonald illustrates, not the doubtful maxim that to know all is to forgive all, but the unshakeable truth that to forgive is to know. He who loves, sees.”
I thought that was an interesting way to process things that are hard to understand; I think we do humanity (and again, ourselves, seeing we are included) a great service when we also try to see others. To do as the old proverb says and walk a mile in their shoes, and we have to try especially hard with those who have hurt us. To try to see who they were, what times they lived in, what their background was, what oppressions they were fighting to free themselves from when they fell into the trap of error. While we may not feel like we would have made the same mistakes, I think it is worthwhile to at least try to see what road led others to the decisions they made. If we can’t see the whole picture clearly, how can we judge clearly? In the end, this process not only helps others, but ourselves as well; because the better we can see all sides of an issue, the better we can understand it; the better we understand an issue, the better we can decide what to do about it, and how to resolve our part of the problem. Once we have studied our case and have a better understanding of the subject, our own healing process can truly begin. So the same consideration we gave in seeking to understand others better comes back and gives us clearer knowledge, which now helps us in our own cause and life. And perhaps by the same token, if we fail to give that consideration to others, we will always be missing a piece we needed to complete our own puzzle of life.