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.