Learning to Take Sides

Elle, do you know how much I love you? Do you know how wonderful you are? Do you know that you are special?

IMG_7674Ever since Elle was tiny, Bea has been asking her these questions. And ever since Elle was able to respond, she’s answered, Yes! She does know how loved and amazing she is. (And, lest you think Bea is some sort of magical big sister, she learned those phrases from Frank, who also asks Elle those questions every day.)

It’s moments like that that make me smile and think that we are doing something right as parents. And then, later in the day, I’ll hear the shrieks and cries that only sisters who know the art of pushing buttons can elicit. As I go to mediate the fight, I forget the sweet moments and focus on navigating the world of taking sides and teaching apologies.

I keep hearing that we are living in the most divisive world we’ve ever experienced. There are lots of culprits, though social media seems to take the most of the blame. We are at odds politically; our world is constantly in conflict; our churches are fragmented. The divides seem huge and unrepairable.

I was talking with a friend about taking sides and how unhelpful this seems. As we listen to stories and sit with the experiences of others, black and white thinking is much more complex. Even gray doesn’t seem to do justice to a conflict that stems from colonialism and millennia of power changes.

My friend wisely observed that sometimes, we do need to take sides. She likened global conflict to fights between her own children. While she loves both her children deeply, if one provokes the other, she takes one side as they work through the conflict. Often, as parents, we have to take sides in a moment as we teach life lessons of apology and forgiveness. When Elle snatches a marker from Bea and then draws on her artwork, I take Bea’s side in that conflict, teaching Elle to apologize and only draw on her own paper. When Bea runs past Elle, flicking her head in passing, I take Elle’s side as I teach Bea that no one likes their head flicked.

Taking sides doesn’t mean I don’t love both my girls or that I always take Bea’s side over Elle’s. But in a particular moment, the way to resolution is to stand with the oppressed.

We do live in a divisive world, though I wonder if it’s any more divisive than in centuries past. I would love for us to all hold hands, to usher in this season of Advent with hope, love, and peace. To put aside conflict and recognize our own part in the messiness of this world. In the meantime, I’m learning to take sides. I’m learning to stand with the oppressed, even when it feels more divisive or goes against popular opinion. I’m learning that, until the oppressed are given freedom, none of us experience freedom.

I’m learning that I can stand by the oppressed while still loving the oppressor.

How do you “pick a side” on a big issue? How do you intentionally learn about all sides of a conflict?