Monday, November 5, 2012

Finding Good and God in Those Around You

God is infinitely good and all his works are good. – Catechism of the Catholic Church PART ONE: THE PROFESSION OF FAITH, SECTION TWO: THE PROFESSION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH, CHAPTER ONE: I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER; Article I: "I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER ALMIGHTY, CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH"; Paragraph 7. The Fall 

The Catholic Church desires for her children a perfection of love which cannot happen if they do not first learn to see goodness in every person around them. The Church recognizes that people’s behavior may be very wicked. It may be necessary to put such a person in confinement so as to prevent them from being able to harm others with that wicked behavior. However, the Church maintains that because God has created all things good this spark of goodness cannot be extinguished so long as the person lives. She therefore teaches her children to look beyond the wicked behavior to see, and nurture, the goodness present within them.

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' – Matthew 25:40

The Church teaches us that whatever we do for someone else we do for Christ, and therefore we are not only to seek the good in this person but to seek to see Christ our God in them as well. It is often a struggle. However, this struggle to see good and God in everyone around you is a hallmark of the Christian faith and a recipe for improving relationships with others.

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson points out that the brain has a natural negativity bias (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-wise-brain/201205/see-the-good-in-others) – we are more likely to notice and latch onto the negative qualities of people around us. Unfortunately, if we allow this bias to rule our lives we become more fearful, more reluctant to reach out to others, and we are less likely to establish quality relationships. To overcome that negativity bias we must train our brains to look for and make note of the positive in other people.

The reality of the situation is that our children will have to deal with many unpleasant people in their lives. They will have to deal with difficult clients, demanding bosses, co-workers whose views do not match their own, in-laws, and unfriendly neighbors. Teaching them to find good and God in everyone is an important part of teaching them how to get along with other people, a necessary ingredient for them to get ahead in life.

My first experience with applying the Church’s teachings to my life came when I was working in the marketing department of a fortune 500 company. Just six weeks after I came to work there they hired a woman that I could not stand and placed her in a position of authority over me. It took me a full month after her arrival to figure out what it was about her that I hated so much. What it really boiled down to, eventually, was that she was a reflection of the parts of me I had worked so hard to overcome.

She was a perfectionist who could never accept her own failures and so she would blame everyone else for them. She was never real with anyone, showing one face to this group and another face to that group and only being nice if she thought you could do something for her. She wore her Christian faith like a jacket – putting it on and taking it off as it suited her. I absolutely loathed the woman.

Yet as I realized why I hated her so much, the Holy Spirit worked to change my attitude by showing me the good and God within her. I began to realize that in spite of her flaws and faults she was living that Christianity much better than I was – and I was challenged to live my faith better because of her. It took months, but I eventually came to see that this woman was a gift to me from God. Yes, she was wrapped in some awfully ugly wrapping paper, but that was just to test me and see if I would trust God enough to treat her like the treasure she was instead of throwing her away like trash.

I learned so much about myself and grew so much in my faith because of my encounter with that hard to love woman. I am forever in her debt because of it. If we can help our children to learn to see good and God in every person they meet, they too can reap the benefits contained in even the most difficult people in their lives.

Finding Good in others

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. – Phillippians 4:8
One of the things the Catholic Church teaches her children as a means of finding good and God in others is to look for it. This may seem obvious but it goes against our grain to try and find good in someone we don’t like. However, the reality is that even the most obnoxious person has some likeable trait. They may be a snappy dresser, or they may be a talented artist. Find one thing to focus on that is good and offer this person a sincere compliment on that good thing.

Teach your children by example how to find the good in other people. If your child complains about Aunt Bertha, point out something nice about Aunt Bertha. Maybe Aunt Bertha brings presents when she comes to visit. Be sure to point out her generosity and go out of your way to thank her the next time she comes and to compliment her on her generosity. Sincere compliments are appreciated by everyone. As I began to overcome my intense dislike of the woman at work, I made it a point to stop complaining about her at home and to talk to my son about the many good things I was beginning to notice about her.

Finding God in others

Another thing the Catholic Church teachers her children as a means of finding God in others is to be observant of how the other person is helping us to grow in our faith. This person may be leading us to pray more often – perhaps for patience! – or may be leading us to learn more about our faith so that we can defend it. If we examine our faith life to see how we are growing because of our interactions with this person, we can find God in them and begin to recognize in them signs of Christ’s presence.

Teach your children by example how to find God by showing them how to turn to God to find the right way to deal with the difficult individual. Christ, after all, knows you and knows them far better than either of you ever will. It only makes sense to ask Him for guidance in resolving the personality conflict and finding a peaceful resolution

Conclusion

Your child may never become best friends with the difficult person in their lives, but they will come much closer if they can learn to find the good and God in that person. I hope you have enjoyed this chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting.  If you are just joining us, you can find the introduction and the earlier chapters by following the link above.  I hope you will join us tomorrow for Chapter 24: Honoring Commitments.

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