Tuesday night, in the intermission between the first and second half of the CASA training , I ended up chatting with the person who led the first half’s discussion about communication and conflict resolution strategies. He was talking about politics, something I seldom start a conversation on, but am occasionally willing to talk about, and about the difficulty in talking with people of other political worldviews. It was clear that he was a person of a particularly liberal political worldview, left of center on social causes and redistributionist when it came to his views of economics, and he expressed a frustration with trying to talk to more conservative people because of a hostility to redistribution. I suggested to him that rather than try to make a debate on grounds where one will never be successful, since economic egalitarianism is simply not something that some people value, that he would do well to frame the subject in moral terms, an idea that seems never to have occurred to him to do. The conversation had the legs of one that could have gone on for a long time, but it was quickly time for the second half of training to begin and the conversation had to end.
A great deal of the language of contemporary life, especially within politics, is the language of dissatisfaction. A great deal of the support for socialist primary candidate Bernie Sanders, and of populist Donald Trump on the opposite side, is due to a dissatisfaction with the status quo and with establishment leaders who have paid their dues and done their time rising from office to office ascending rungs on the ladder. This dissatisfaction has expressed itself in a variety of different ways, and can be viewed as a rise of extremism on both the right and the left, with ecoterrorism or Islamic fundamentalism, with the rise of anti-immigration fervor or a longing for ever more internationalist government to tie our fractured world together, with calls for states to be leaner and meaner in the face of mounting deficits and the impossibility of meeting unfunded liabilities in entitlements, or for government to be strengthened and increased in size to provide largesse for people who cannot afford health care or student loan repayments. Even where there is widespread dissatisfaction with the way things are, there is no such agreement on the way things ought to be.
Often dissatisfaction makes itself known in ways that are highly hostile and counterproductive. For example, the recent push for the acceptance of gay marriage has been done not out of a desire to obey God or to respect marriage as a divine institution that seeks to protect women, restrain men, and focus the attention of both on questions of family and legacy, but rather out of a desire on the part of people to have their relationships viewed as legitimate and refuse any sort of stigma attached to sin. What is desired is a feeling that one’s behavior is viewed as blameless and legitimate, a feeling that is impossible to be realized, since even if every person were convinced, one would still have to face one’s maker in judgment, and His view on the matter has been made unmistakably plain. Likewise, contemporary hostility to illegal immigrants springs from a hostility of being made to feel alien in one’s own home areas, given how immigrants have tended to band together, and given the fact that the presence of immigrants tends to lower wages because of increased competition for jobs. A feeling of scarcity and vulnerability tends to encourage people to fear and loathe outsiders, even of the outsiders in question have not done anything wrong. Our feelings are poor judges of political worldviews, and can lead us to seek to enforce the cruel and wayward dictates of our own hearts on other people.
How are we to resolve these matters? For one, we must examine the source of our dissatisfaction within ourselves. A great deal of my own dissatisfaction stems from observation. I look around me and see others be given opportunities that I am consistently denied, and I wonder to myself, what do they have that I do not have? I see that I could do as good a job, in my sleep, as these people do trying their hardest and giving their best efforts, and wonder what it is that others simply are not seeing, or if they are envious and insecure about what I have to offer, as I am envious of their good fortune and the opportunities they have to shine. I see other people treat each other with warmth and affection, while they do not treat me with the same warmth, and I am offended by the contrast, even if they seem entirely unable to recognize themselves as behaving with partiality. I see people’s carping criticism and lack of appreciation, and fume over the fact that so much of life seems to be wasted time, not progressing towards any worthwhile destination. I do not necessarily know the dissatisfaction that others feel, but I certainly know my own, and am willing to speak to its depth and complexity, even if how to resolve that dissatisfaction is not particularly obvious.
Yet even if the dissatisfaction of life makes for a great deal of frustration, and the robbing of life of much of the joy it had, so too discontent has been a great spur to growth and improvement. To be sure, there was little in the beginnings of my life for me to be satisfied about—the wounds and scars of a horrific childhood, a broken and divided family, an upbringing of often brutal discipline and serious poverty, and so from the start of life I was pushed to be dissatisfied at the way things were and determined to live better, and to treat others better than I had been treated. Yet such dissatisfaction can easily become its own bad pattern, as it is easy to create drama when one is discontented simply because one has not learned to be content. And yet if we want to be content, able to endure any state we find ourselves in, and finding God sufficient for our needs, so too we do not wish to be complacent, and struggle to find our God-given longings fulfilled honorably. Our lives are full of tensions and contradictions, and so it is little wonder that we should quarrel and struggle with others, finding it difficult to know others because we scarcely know ourselves. How can we make a better world for ourselves and others, when we can make no world better than we are ourselves?
 See, for example: