Saturday, June 19, 2010

Not Being Easily Provoked Does Not Mean Never Being Provoked

So far this month, my New Year's Resolution posts have focused on what it means to be provoked, how easy it is to be provoked and how easy it is to be provoked toward God. However, in looking at the aspect of charity that Paul encapsulates as being "not easily provoked", I think it is important to consider what this does NOT say about provocation(s) and charity.

1) This statement assumes that provocation will occur - and it will do so in ways that will cause improper reaction to occur easily.

As I said two weeks ago, provocation is not something I have to seek in order to become stronger as a result of finding it. In fact, I think it is obvious upon initial consideration that seeking or causing provocation is opposed to everything else related to charity - and it also is opposed to the characteristics listed in the Sermon on the Mount as leading to being blessed by their acquisition and internalization. Therefore, it is important to point out that my effort to be less easily provoked CANNOT be accomplished by seeking provocation. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

2) This phrase does not label provocation as universally bad.

One of the definitions of "provoke" is:

to incite or stimulate to action; to give rise to, induce or bring about

When looked at fully, provocation is not a bad thing - in and of itself, in isolation. Often, we talk of being provoked by something in such a way that we are inspired to do good, to uplift, to support a good cause, to reach outside our natural comfort zone, etc. Many of the most powerful social reforms in history, for example, came about as a direct result of someone being provoked by a disturbing event or situation. Conditions in the meat packing industry caused provocation within individuals who led the effort to enact badly needed quality control regulations for food; exposure to sweat shops provoked the establishment of child labor laws; confusion and anxiety over religion provoked a young man to a grove of trees to pray; repentance is understood to rely on provocation, whether internal or external.

3) How we react to provocation is more important than the nature of the provocation itself.

Perhaps the best indicator of charity is not even "how" we react, but "how quickly" we react. As I mentioned in the first post this month, it is not that we "react" automatically to provocation - but that, instead, we take the time to "act" in the face of provocation. In this sense, it is more important that we not be "EASILY" provoked - not that we be "NOT" provoked. I dare say that this injunction will not excuse overly-quick action in the face of provocation - that doing the right things too quickly is not only possible but can cause terrible consequences and be the wrong thing in the long run. That is worth a post all on its own.

4) The exact same objective provocation might not require the exact same action in each instance.

I believe, upon reflection, most people can understand that not every situation that includes provocation - even provocation that is objectively equal - should result in the exact same action. After all, the heart of our legal system is that there can be mitigating circumstances that need to be taken into consideration in order for any of various responses to be correct, just, fair, appropriate, etc. The objective provocation might be someone being killed - but the mitigating circumstances might be so different that one person is excused without punishment of any kind, while another person might be sentenced to death. Similarly, when dealing with personal affront, insult, harm, anxiety or conflict one person who is the catalyst might be forgiven quite easily - while another person who says or does the exact same thing might be condemned harshly. Much of this depends on the provoker, but much of it depends on the timing.

5) Taking a breath and counting to ten are common approaches to avoiding acting in haste - and, as important as practices like that are, they are not utilized fully simply to avoid acting.

As I said, sometimes provocation requires action - not just letting time pass and allowing the reason for the provocation to remain unaddressed.

In light of the focus of this resolution, the key appears to be the ability to "take into consideration" the whole picture (or as close to the whole picture as is possible) and to act accordingly - which takes a degree of self-control, analysis and, most importantly, time.

Again, the command does not say, "Be not provoked
." Rather, it says, "Be not easily provoked."


Stephen said...

Nicely said.

SilverRain said...

Is it possible that it could mean "not easily brought to action"?

This may seem silly on the surface, but after some thought, it makes sense to me. A person who is charitable, truly charitable, would not run around crazily trying to fix all perceived problems. They would slow down, think things through, and apply help in the best and most judicious possibly way.

My recent experiences have shown me how important it is to act, not react. Reactions, whether good or bad, are rarely truly charitable, truly loving.

For example, if we pay extra fast offerings because we have been provoked to pay it, is it truly charitable (ie. filled with Christ's love)? If we give $10 to the man on the street who comes up and begs us, are we being charitable or are we just giving away money? How much more charitable would it be to notice that someone around us is having a hard time and giving the $10 without being asked?

Thanks for this post, it obviously got me thinking.