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Habit can be a powerful thing.
Maybe it’s the most powerful thing.
Great athletes are talented, yes, but the most successful ones create the habits of working out, of practicing, of studying opponents.
Top business people develop habits that keep them learning, growing and improving.
Elaine Pagels, a religion professor at Princeton, said in a 2018 interview that your faith-belief system is one thing, but perhaps more telling is how you practice your religion; what are your habits?
Pastor Michael Grady of El Paso came to Las Cruces Monday, Jan. 20, to address the Doña Ana County NAACP Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
Prior to his keynote address, earlier speakers mentioned one of my favorite quotes by Dr. King: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Like some other leaders of great movements – including Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, John Lennon and Fred Rogers – Dr. King talked a lot about love.
The atmosphere in the Las Cruces Convention Center that Monday morning leaned toward love. There were people of all ages, different ethnicities and varying religious backgrounds. There was singing and laughing.
But we knew we were there for serious reasons. We all know Dr. King’s vision is not complete in America. There are still millions of people who judge others not by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin, or by the church they go to, or by the language they speak.
We also knew something serious about Pastor Grady: His daughter is lucky to be alive.
We all know about the Aug. 3, 2019, Walmart shooting in El Paso.
Most of us know how many people were killed that horrific morning: 22.
But fewer know how many people survived. There were 24 people shot that day who are still alive, and one is Pastor Grady’s daughter, Michelle, who sustained three bullet wounds, and remained in the hospital for 55 days, recovering.
Grady described the killer’s methodical process.
“He came into our city, like a thief in the night, fueled by hatred,” Grady said. “He came to kill, kill, kill and destroy. But he will NOT have the last word.”
He talked about our country’s divisions, which we’ve all heard and discussed a thousand times. We usually are talking about the divisions in political terms and say how “polarized” the country is.
Pastor Gray, though, couched the divisions in terms of habit.
“People have gotten so used to being divided,” Gray said.
Most of us work around the divisions. If our sister, or cousin, or neighbor, or friend has opposing views from our own, we simply don’t discuss the divisions. It becomes habit, something we just accept, like a toilet handle that has to be jiggled every time.
Or, maybe, we take the opposite tack, and get into a knock-down, drag-out argument with that person every time.
Either way, they have become habits, and we’ve not learned anything. We’ve certainly not changed their viewpoints, and they haven’t changed ours. I think the goal shouldn’t be to change others’ viewpoints, but to talk with them and try to understand how they arrived at that view. It’s a way for both sides to learn something.
Some of our habits are intentions. If you made a New Year’s Resolution to do 10 sit-ups every morning, and you’ve done that, intentionally, that’s a purposeful habit, and a good thing. But if you one day realized, for the past two months, you’ve made a daily habit of getting a milkshake at 3 p.m., that’s less intentional, and probably not a good thing.
Unfortunately, there are people who do bad things purposefully and intentionally, which become habits. If someone is habitually doing bad and jerky things, maybe they shouldn’t be termed as having bad habits. Maybe they’re just jerks.
Back to Pastor Gray. I agree with him that we, as a society, have gotten so used to being divided that it has become a habit. On some things we want to be divided, and probably should be divided.
When I lived in Arkansas years ago, I attended a Disciples of Christ church. Their motto at the time was “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, diversity.” I always liked that attitude of “Let’s agree on the really important things, and we can have healthy, differing opinions on everything else.”
The hard part (there’s always a hard part) is deciding what is essential, what is really important. Sometimes that decision creates our biggest divisions.
Gray reminded us “there are differences, but we have more in common than we want to believe,” and we Americans are all essentially living in the same house.
Then he quoted a familiar Bible verse from the book of Matthew, later echoed by Abraham Lincoln when he was campaigning for U.S. Senator: “A house divided against itself shall not stand.”
Maybe it’s time we check our habits.