The pain sliced into my hand as every muscle in my neck tensed. I realized my fingernail was digging into my hand and the lanyard I had been working on hung limply from my fist, forgotten.
I was 12 years old and I was furious.
I am generally a very even-tempered person. I would never have described any of my reactions or feelings as “angry” until this moment. But now, sharing a bench with my friends and surrounded by respected adults happily nodding along, I was livid. And I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do about it.
I tempered my anger for a moment, enough for a quick glance to either side to see if anyone else shared my outrage. From the top row of the campfire amphitheater I saw no tension in anyone’s faces or postures. I was surrounded by people, yet entirely alone. I was incredulous.
Did no one else hear the blasphemy coming from this speaker’s mouth? Did no one else care about representing, or even just considering, another perspective?
It was just past 7am and the early morning light streamed through the tall pines, onto the bleary-eyed faces of the congregation. We were all there for a week-long summer camp: kids from grades 5 through 12 enjoying their vacation while learning about God; and adults serving as counselors, water-slide competition judges, and enforcers of the “no harmful pranks” rule. Sponsored by the local Community Covenant Church, the camp was always a lot of fun and games with a little heartfelt Christianity thrown in. I had never felt pressured or judged by any decision that didn’t align completely with their beliefs. All of the leaders were genuine in their faith, in their willingness to help, and in their friendship.
But on this morning, the camp had a guest speaker. And that speaker turned his discourse onto a topic very dear to my heart: other cultures.
As he continued to go on about how these cultures worshiped false idols and how ignorant and backward they were, I found his speech increasingly revolting. His myopic approach was condescending and so repugnant I wanted to storm out of the amphitheater or raise my voice in defense of these nebulous “others”. Problem was, there was no way to do that without making a scene. Though I hated what the speaker was saying, I still wanted to be respectful. I didn’t know how to reconcile these conflicting impulses so I was left frozen in my seat, staring at the lanyard clamped in my fist.
Thankfully, the speech ended quickly after that and we were all released for breakfast. I had time to cool off and look forward to the rest of the day’s activities but I will never forget the hostility I felt for those few minutes. That morning taught me just how important understanding other perspectives is to me. I have never been so angry, before or since, but I hope to be able to encourage greater understanding next time.