Turned a Cheek Lately?

by Leah McClellan

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Santa Giving a Peace Sign

With the Christmas holiday just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about the meaning of Christmas and the peace and love that Jesus and other spiritual leaders taught.

Every so often, I hear how someone is confused by the scripture that says people should turn the other cheek. Jesus said, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” That’s Luke 6.29, and it’s also recorded in Matthew (and maybe a few other spots; I’m not trying to be a biblical scholar at the moment).

The Buddha said something similar.

“If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words.” That’s in Majjhima Nikaya 21.6, according to Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, a collection edited by Marcus Borg. I’m no Buddhist scholar either—far from it—but I think about things.

A lot of people think “turning the other cheek” means we’re supposed to be utterly passive and let everyone else walk all over us.

Picture it. Someone walks up to you, smacks you upside the head, and you turn the other side of your head so he (or she) can smack you some more. Before you know it, you’re on the ground, bloody or dead.

I don’t think that’s what Jesus or the Buddha meant. And this isn’t an original thought, by the way—not by a long stretch. The real scholars will give you a list of scriptures and teachings to support the idea that turning the other cheek doesn’t mean that you lie down and get yourself all beat up.

Turning the other cheek means to let go of anger. Let go of revenge. Let go of the desire for paybacks. Let go of hatred and the desire to punish. Let go of the fantasy to squash someone into the ground like a little bug because he hurt you. Because she insulted you. Because your feelings are hurt, your buttons got pushed, and old wounds got the scabs ripped off of them.

When we nurture anger, we only punish ourselves.

I was thinking about this today because I wrote a letter of complaint about someone yesterday—an email—to someone in charge at that place of business. I explained what the problem was, I described my expectations, I gave specific, very factual examples of the behavior that was unacceptable, and I expressed my understanding of how difficult the situation might be for that person. I expressed compassion. I also suggested a specific solution to the problem and why. I asked for change.

I turned the other cheek.

At no point did I vent anger or attack the person in any way. I discussed only behaviors, lack of skills, and actions, things that can be changed. I asked for something I needed, I described what I don’t need, and I explained. I received a wonderful response.

I turned the other cheek in the sense that I did not attack back, even if indirectly to the supervisor. I let go of anger—and believe me, I had plenty, with good reason as far as I was concerned (I wrote about this awhile back). But I didn’t allow the person to walk all over me; I took action, not in an angry way, but in a compassionate way, a calm way, with a cheek turned.

I’m no saint, but I try to treat others the way I’d like them to treat me. I haven’t always been successful—and by that I mean there have been many times I haven’t kept my mouth shut—but the more I do it, the easier it gets. And it brought to mind the meaning of Christmas and the reason it’s celebrated.

With the holidays you might have a lot of stress.

Lots of stuff to do with preparation, buying gifts, and traveling. We’re in a hurry, and people don’t always do for us what we need them to do. There are family get-togethers, and many of us have family members we don’t always get along with. People get on our nerves. Brothers or sisters, cousins or uncles, or mom and dad know exactly what buttons to push. It’s easy to want to strike back.

Think about turning the other cheek, not just at the holidays, but any time.

It’s not always easy. Think about how you could “abandon any desires and utter no evil words.” It doesn’t mean you have to lie down on the floor. It doesn’t mean you have to let someone beat the crap out of you (figuratively, I hope). It doesn’t prevent you from making sure your space is safe, emotionally and physically. And it doesn’t mean you can’t ask for what you need to be safe or have your needs met. You might have to just. say. no.

I don’t think Jesus said “turn the other cheek” for the other person’s benefit. It’s for our own sanity.

If you’re attacked physically and need to preserve your life, wouldn’t it be ideal if you could calmly pin your attacker to the ground without hurting him? Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply immobilize the other person so you don’t get hurt?

Turning the other cheek means that we don’t attack back, even if we have to defend ourselves (there’s a difference). It means that we don’t harbor anger, we don’t seek revenge, and we don’t want others to suffer simply because we’re suffering and we want them to feel our pain. We can defend ourselves, to save our lives or defend our boundaries or our sanity, but we don’t need to punish.

Think about it. What’s the Christmas season about?

Sure, it’s about family and presents and kids and fun and all that good stuff. But it’s also about Jesus—the day he was born, whether the date is exact or not—and I think he taught some very cool stuff. Whether you’re a Christian or not, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, turning the other cheek sounds like a great idea to me.

Comments are always welcome! Agree, disagree, share a story. I love hearing what you have to say.

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{ 20 comments }

Annika Thomas

Just loved this post! Thank you

Leah

Thanks Annika!

Lisa H.

Well, I’ll start by saying that I am glad that I have not been the only one turning my cheeks as of late. Life lessons (some in the form of difficult and challenging people) had slapped me in so many directions that I wasn’t even sure which way was forward. But once I decided that enough is enough and detached without anger or resentment from those people, my path became clear again. Thanks for sharing this.
Lisa H.´s last [type] ..Are You Boldly Jumping into Your Life without Hesitation

Leah

Hi Lisa, I like how you put it: “detached without anger or resentment.” That’s it, the way I see things. That’s turning the other cheek. We’re not acting like a doormat, but we’re not fighting anyone, either. Good job! It’s not always easy :)

Kimberley McGill

So happy to have discovered your blog.

This is a great definition for “turning the other cheek” – and one I sometimes need to learn over again. But not nearly as often as once upon a time when confusion reigned in my life.

Thank you.

Leah

Hi Kimberly,

Welcome! Nice to see you here. The way I’ve described things isn’t always easy, but I think it’s a good approach. The more we do it, the easier it gets. And if we slip up and let loose instead of calmly standing our ground and turning the other cheek? Oh well, we’re human. Learning new stuff takes work and practice, and we do better next time.

Look forward to seeing you around :)

Andrea DeBell - britetalk

Hi Leah! Good point. He get so hang up with presents that we sometimes forget that this holiday is actually about Jesus. I like that phrase “What would Jesus do?” when we’re confronted with difficult situations.
I like the idea of turning the other cheek because it allows us to cool down and notice what is really bothering us. Usually has nothing to do with the other person but instead with our idea of what happened.
Thanks for this beautiful reminder. Loving blessings!
Andrea DeBell – britetalk´s last [type] ..Stuck in Life Achieve Big Results with Little Effort

Leah McClellan

Hi Andrea! I like that phrase, “What would Jesus do?” too. I also like “What would Sid do?” Same thing, pretty much, and it gives us guidance or helps us to keep to our values. You’re right, often when we’re upset it has nothing to do with anything but our version of things, but even if someone was directly mean (or whatever), by any standard, it’s still our choice how to react or not.

Have a wonderful day :)

Katie

It’s all tied up with forgiveness too. Forgiving a hurt, an insult and letting it not be about you. Ego often makes us get our backs up, seek revenge or hold onto all the bullshit of past hurts. Once we let go and forgive, we move forward which is much different from lying down and taking it. I think it’s human to want resolution and control, again ego driven motives. Great post, Leah. Interesting food for thought for this season, and as you say, to carry into all season. Happy holidays to you, dear friend.
Katie´s last [type] ..Give Yourself the Ultimate Gift- You

Leah McClellan

Definitely, Katie. If we’re able to turn the other cheek in the first place, there’s nothing to forgive. But when we aren’t able to do that, we can always do it later–forgive, even if the other person doesn’t know about it. Let it go. Definitely about ego, and moving forward and forgiving and letting go is also about not giving the control to someone else and not lying down and taking it. By being wrapped up in or concerned with/judging the actions of another and not forgiving we are, in a sense, taking it by giving that power and energy to another. It makes us victims when we don’t forgive.

Thanks to you also for the food for thought, as always, and a lovely season for you as well :)

Angela Artemis

Leah, I agree with you. This was an awesome post. I think Jesus was a great teacher. I also think a lot of what he said has been distorted and misinterpreted. I agree with your interpretation and the Buddhas. I also agree that we are meant to defend ourselves if that’s what is needed to survive.

Turning the other cheek is meant for us – not the other person. Just as forgiveness is meant for us – not the person you’re forgiving. Both examples allow us to move forward without dragging this 100 lb. anchor of vengeance and anger with us. We can truly live in the present moment. We no longer have those pangs of sickening feelings pulling us back into the past when we think of that person and what they did to us. We’re free!

I hope you have a terrific New Year Leah. I’m so glad we “met” this year.
Angela Artemis´s last [type] ..How Intuition Helped One Woman Un-Mask Her Lover’s True Identity

Leah McClellan

Hi Angela, Great way to describe it: “dragging this 100 lb. anchor of vengeance and anger with us.” That’s definitely living in the past if we’re allowing things that happened in the past to affect us in the present. Not that it’s easy sometimes, especially with hurts and betrayals and things like that (I just read your latest post). But consciously letting go of the anger helps us to heal–and drop that 100lb anchor–a whole lot faster.

I hope 2011 is great for you as well! So happy to have met you too–pretty amazing year :)

Rosemary

Another great post Leah and a great reminder for us all with Christmas upon us and the real Christian message almost lost in the nightmare of consumerism. I have also learnt this valuable lesson in my life. It’s about not allowing others to draw us into their anger, confusion and venom. It’s so empowering to discover that we don’t have to respond; that simply turning the ‘other cheek’ says “do your worst, this is about your anger not mine”. However, even knowing this, I have to admit that I have carried many dead weights of anger (other people’s) around on my shoulders without realising it, and that every now and then I need to run a check to make sure that I’m not unwittingly carrying stuff that doesn’t belong to me. Thank you for this post Leah and I wish you a wonderful, peaceful Christmas.
Rosemary´s last [type] ..Are You Afraid of Your Authentic Self

Leah McClellan

Thanks Rosemary, I know what you mean with “not allowing others to draw us into their anger, confusion and venom.” Oh yeah, so easy to get sucked in but like you say, we don’t have to respond or get involved.

I’d say we’ve all carried around other people’s anger, in many forms that are hard to recognize. I sure have. But we don’t have to! YAY! Maybe we’ll see a post from you one of these days about how you do that “check.” I don’t have any particular system, personally, but sounds like a great idea. Like a car tune up :)

Have a wonderful holiday season :)

Joe Wilner

Leah,

Thanls for the wonderful message. Our emotional well-being depends on our ability to forgive others, and have nurturing and supportive relationships. I agree that turning the other cheek is about being assertive and able to have respect for ourselves and others. This is a great reminder for the holiday season. Particularly if you’ve been to a shopping mall lately :) it gets a little uncivil.
Joe Wilner´s last [type] ..Have a Holly- Jolly Christmas- 5 Ways to Stress Less During the Holiday

Leah McClellan

Hi Joe! I had to laugh with your mention of shopping malls getting a “little” uncivil. I stay well clear of them at this time of year (my suburban area is like a shopping mecca). If I have to go to a mall for some reason, I park as far away as possible. I refuse to engage in parking spot wars! I learned the hard way–I thought this woman was going to attack me–I had no idea that was “her” spot. I guess she saw it first even if I arrived at it first lol And yup, I turned my cheek and backed out–fast:)

Thanks, and have a wonderful holiday season.

Tess The Bold Life

Turn the other cheek was one of my mom’s favorite lessons. With 9 siblings I can see how she used it to keep peace in our home.

I rarely get thrown off my center because I take time in the morning to become centered. Butch watch our if I forget or don’t make the time and I’m having a stressful day as well. Then I can get angry quickly and I’m off and running. Like Katie says my big ego loves to get in my way and justify everything. Thanks for the reminder to live this way always. Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements is coming to my city in January. I’ll be in the front row taking in what I already now on a deeper level.

Leah McClellan

Hi Tess, That’s awesome that turning the other cheek was one of your mom’s lessons. Also great that you take the time to make sure you’re centered in the morning. For me, even if I do that, I might have to repeat it several times during the day–at least. And same here for me with the ego thing and justifying–for me I can get really negative when I’m feeling down or stressed and I let people or situations get to me (though I work hard to not fling it out on others). I LOVE The Four Agreements! I forgot all about that–I borrowed it from the library awhile back on recommendation from a friend and meant to buy it–it’s great. I think I’ll have to buy it; it’s worth having to refer to again and again.

Enjoy that front row seat :)

Alison Kerr

“Turning the other cheek means to let go of anger. Let go of revenge. Let go of the desire for paybacks.”

Thanks for the great food for thought Leah. I agree with your interpretation. I love how H H Dalai Lama says that our enemies are our best teachers. These are hard lessons which take a lifetime (or several) to really learn. Along the way we need to be gentle on ourselves for our imperfections.
Alison Kerr´s last [type] ..Fresh rosemary for the holidays- 25 recipes to grab your tastebuds

Leah McClellan

Hi Alison, Great point on “our enemies are our best teachers.” Whenever I get irritated or upset with someone I always ask myself why: why am I feeling upset or angry, etc? And it helps me decide if it’s just some little personal thing of my own (in which case I’d really better turn the other cheek!) or really something I should pursue and try to change. And then I get the great opportunity to practice turning the other cheek as I pursue it.

I agree that we should also turn the other cheek to our own little imperfections! At least a little :)

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