Feeding the fire

Feeding the fire

Oct 14
Feeding the fire

Let’s pretend that I punched you in the face.

Now suppose that you punch me in the face in response.

Who is wrong?

I suspect you’ll say that we both are.  I agree.  Nobody should get punched in the face.  Ever.  And yet it still happens.  While it disturbs me that this still happens, I’m far more disturbed by the way we respond when things like this happen.

It seems that more often than not, we respond in a similar manner.  We retaliate.  We consider it justified, based on what was done to us.  In other words, it’s wrong to punch someone in the face unless they punched you first.

There was a similar principle established in the Bible under the law of Moses.  It essentially says that if one person injures another, then the exact same injury should be inflicted back on the original offender.  We came to call this principle “an eye for an eye” – a quote from Exodus 21:24.

Personally, I think this is in our DNA – we lash back at those who hurt us.  When we get hurt, we hurt back.  When we get offended, we offend in return.  If it was wrong for them to do it to us, why is it okay for us to do it back?  Because the other party “started it.”  We absolve ourselves of guilt despite the fact that what we’ve just done is the very thing we blame the other person for doing.

You are free to display the most ugly, horrible behavior as long as you didn’t “start” it.

Allow me to submit Donald Trump as Exhibit A.  He has said and done some pretty appalling things.  However, the responses that I see from so many people are equally appalling.  I have been shocked at the way people speak of him, as if his behavior and speech give them free license to retaliate in kind.  If it was wrong for him to say and do what he did, then it’s wrong for you to do it too.  I don’t care who “started” it.

Not so very long ago, there were a couple of famous incidents of people posting pictures of trophy animal kills.  Some people were shocked and upset.  Many responded by saying the hunters should be hunted.  The responses were just as wrong as the original “offense.”

Maybe the problem lies with what “offends” us.  Any more it doesn’t seem like it takes much to offend us, meaning that it doesn’t take much to “justify” our poor speech and behavior.  Quite often, our responses are just as offensive as what caused the offense.  This response offends someone, who retaliates offensively, which in turn offends another.  Like the old “eye for an eye” mindset, our retaliation to perceived offenses never ends.

As a wise man once said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

In this case, the way we respond to being offended only ends up with everyone being constantly offended.

We have two options as I see it.  The first is to unplug from the things that offend us most – typically social media and any news source.  Both are full of what I have come to call “rage porn.”  The latter is an entire industry built on keeping you outraged.

The second option is to stop responding in a like manner.  Stop expressing your disgust in such ugly and disgusting ways.  Relearn the art of being polite and civil, even when you vehemently disagree.

What if the people who offend you so much feed off of the way you express your outrage?  What if they get outraged by your outrage?  What if the latest thing they’ve said or done to offend you was in “retaliation” for the last thing you said or did?

What if they think you started it?

Regardless, anger and outrage result in more anger and outrage.  Your outrage isn’t solving anything – it’s just adding fuel to the fire, letting the world know that it’s okay to express their outrage and disgust in uncivil and impolite ways.

In other words, punching someone in the face because they punched you in the face really just tells them that you’re okay with them treating you that way as long as they’re willing to take it.


  1. Sarah

    Now Chris, what I am going to say is much easier in theory then in practice, but I have had to practice it a few times with one person in particular, and sometimes I practice well, and sometimes I practice poorly.

    It comes down to extending mercy, feeling sorry for the person who is truly wrong, that they have been misled from the truth. It is also a matter of mistakenly allowing another’s opinion attack one’s pride, or the self.

    My oldest daughter used to hurt my feelings often, even as early as age 2. It was because I took her actions personally, as an attack on my personhood. Really, she was attacking the rule, never me. On the otherhand, by the time I had my youngest daughter and she was old enough to speak “I hate you!”, to me, I could calmly respond to her, “I’m sorry,” and begin a count down of the time she had to report to her bedroom for a timeout. And as she continued to yell in her closed bedroom, I shrugged my shoulders to her siblings who couldn’t help but notice her tantrum, and explain to them, “She’ll get over it😊”

    People are so out of touch with the dignity of the human being. If one is ok with killing babies, then why would throwing a punch be considered wrong?

    In the long run, which is more admirable, which shows a heart of love, who is more trustworthy, who would you entrust your life to, a parent who forgives the murderer of their child or one who remains bitter?

    I once heard a story about Mother Teresa who was out begging for food with one of her poor. When she asked for some bread at a bakery, the employee spit in her face. She calmly thanked him, wiped her face, and responded, “ok, that was for me,” and motioned to the poor man beside her, “but what about him?”

    My confessor often reminded me, do not react. Instead, respond.
    Reacting is an instinct. Responding is a conscious choice.

    So many people do not like to write, and it takes even more effort to write well. If people were required to always “react” with the well- written word (not typed), many arguments would die before getting started.

    God Bless!


    • As always, Sarah, thank you for your thoughts. One of the comments I jokingly make to people when they complain about something is “I think you should take it personally.”

      I’m going to try to continue to practice grace and mercy. I’m not often good at it. Thankfully, I get lots of opportunities to practice “responding” rather than “reacting.”

      • Sarah

        I love that, “thankfully I get plenty of practice responding…thankfully!”

        Do people usually interpret it as a joke, “…you should take it personally.” as you intended? Do they laugh like you hoped? If so, I need to adopt that as my new line!

        (Just like John Malcovich’s “It is beyond my control.” In
        Dangerous Liasons”) 😊 (and no, I have not adopted that line for my own; what a cop out. But if I lived in the fantasy world, it would be my default excuse)

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