Extending grace in moments of conflict

I sense that a lot of people on both sides of the aisle are reaching out to one another after this election, and we need to do everything we can to facilitate that effort. I’ve been reading a book by Buck Brannaman, “The Faraway Horses,” and I think he wrote some really good words along the lines of reaching out to people whom we may think do not deserve the effort.

“Many times people have told me that what they’ve learned from me about understanding their horses has helped them begin to understand themselves a little bit better and then allowed them to make changes that improved their lives far better than they could have ever imagined.

One such person was a chariot racer who lived near Big Horn, Wyoming. Chariot racing is a winter sport, and it has a following in some parts of the West. It’s a lot like what Charlton Heston did in the movie Ben Hur, except the chariots aren’t usually quite as fancy and the horses that pull them tend to be about half broke. Some of the horses have never even been taught to drive. The racers harness them up, beat them over the rump, and away they go over frozen ground or through snowfields.When the man from near Big Horn tried to harness a horse and teach it to drive, they got into a fight. The man lost his temper and beat the horse with a two-by-four until the horse was unconscious. Somebody called a veterinarian, but it was too late. The horse was still unconscious. He wasn’t dead, but there wasn’t anything the vet could do, so he had to put the horse to sleep.

Someone called the sheriff, and the man ended up in front of a Sheridan County judge. The charge was animal abuse, and the vet, a Dr. Wilson, was one of the witnesses against him. After the judge heard the case, he asked the vet what he thought an appropriate punishment might be. The vet suggested ordering the man to pay to take one of his other young horses to one of my clinics. He thought that teaching the man how to properly start a colt might help him learn something about understanding horses, an education that would be more effective than simply hitting him with a big fine. The judge agreed.

I hadn’t yet moved to Wyoming from Montana, but I’d been giving clinics in the Sheridan area for a while, and the person who organized my clinic there told me about the chariot racer’s offense and the judge’s sentence. On the one hand, I wanted to hate the man for what he had done to my friend, the horse. But after considering the situation, I realized that the man most likely expected me to hate him. He had probably hardened himself to what was coming, and he was mentally prepared to get through whatever hostility he might experience.

When the man showed up at the clinic, I treated him no different than any other student. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I acted as though he’d done nothing wrong. The locals knew, of course. There was a lot of whispering about who he was and the horrible thing that he had done, so you can imagine the shame and regret the man must have felt. I was the only person there who treated him well, and after a day or two he started to make progress. He started asking questions, and by the time the clinic was over, he and his colt were doing pretty well.

After everybody else had said their good-byes, the man stood off by himself near the corrals. I was loading my trailer when he came over. He was a big man, over six feet tall, and weighing about 225 pounds. He just stood there for a while. I waited until he spoke. “I don’t know what to say,” he began. “This weekend has changed my life, and in more ways than you will ever know.” With that he started to cry. I gave him a hug. “I may never see you again,” I told him, “but I hope what you’ve learned helps carry you through times when it’s hard to control your emotions. I hope you find the wisdom you need to fix some of the things that aren’t okay in your life.” He nodded, then shook my hand. “Well, thanks for giving me a start.”

Dr. Wilson was a wise man. So was the judge. Making that defendant attend one of my clinics turned out to be as good a punishment as could have been dished out. He went through a few life-altering days, which also validated something for me, too. My initial inclination had been to be mean and vengeful because of what the man had done to the horse. Yet if I had, if I had approached him as an enemy, I wouldn’t have accomplished anything. There would have been no chance for him to learn a better way.”

I think we would do well to take this same attitude with one another after this election. It’s hard to filter in moments like these, but let me offer a good grid for evaluating whether you should post or not, using the words of true grace-giving person, the Apostle Paul:

Ephesians 4.29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

I close by asking the forgiveness of anyone whose heart-wounds my words or posts may have acerbated during this election. Although I have sincerely tried not to attack people, and I think many of us were and are trying to help the people on the opposite side of the aisle see the other side of the argument, nevertheless we may very well have failed in achieving that objective.

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