I've been thinking about the recommendation of Jesus to “turn the other cheek,” (Matt. 5:39) and what that really means. These are Biblical words that I've heard quoted many times, but until more recent times, I myself rarely practiced them, because they made no sense to me. What? Smile while someone walks all over me? Offer up my other cheek for an equal punching? Are you kidding me? At least that's the way I saw it.
But I have come to see these words differently now.
I have come to see that turning the other cheek is a way of refusing to focus on the negativity of a situation. While some may see such looking the other way as a form of denial, and call it a bad thing, I have come to recognize times when such denial is appropriate; there are times when we are better served by refusing to empower the negative, choosing to take the high road instead.
Another saying comes to mind: what we focus on gets bigger. Those words remind us that the more we resist something the bigger it gets; this means that the more we pay attention to something we say we don't want, the more of it we get.
When someone is negatively striking out at us, for instance, if we attack in retaliation we simply invite more attack. Have you noticed that it is not the first strike, but the strike-back that starts the war? I have.
And what is it that causes us to strike back? Only our belief that we have been wronged; we decide the worse about someone and then we react to them as if they are an enemy, which generally means we attack. What response can we expect in return?
But to turn the other cheek, means we refuse to blindly assume the worse about another person. We learn to look for a better, more loving interpretation, rather than to automatically assume that the worse-case-scenario we've created in our mind is true. We do this because we understand that to decide the worst about another prompts us to act towards them in a defensive, unloving way which, in turn, encourages them to prove our negative beliefs about them.
When we turn the other cheek, we in essence are saying something like this:
“I deny/refuse-to-see you as my enemy. I trust that you did or said what you did because of what you believe, not because you were trying to hurt me, necessarily. Even if you think you do want to hurt me, I know it could only mean that you are confused. I do not need to join in your confusion by trying to hurt you back. I turn the other cheek instead because I know that the quickest route to peace is to treat you with kindness, patience, equanimity and love. That is what I choose to focus on because that is what I want more of. I therefore refuse to take your actions personally. Instead I will look for the gift and the growth opportunities you bring.
May you reap the rich harvest that comes from turning the other cheek!