Not Being Afraid to Ask “Why?”: Reflections from Aung Saan Su Kyi’s Speech at the Freedom Forum

This is a special Friday edition of Momentary Delight. While I generally try to stay away from writing on Friday evening, this article and the attached You Tube video are things I really wanted to share with you.

Since this past Monday’s post “Things I Didn’t Know” focused on Myanmar, I wanted follow up by sharing this Armin Rosen article from The Atlantic entitled When Aung Saan Su Kyi met the Craigslist Guy. Rosen attended this week’s inaugural San Francisco Freedom Forum, which was attended by, among others, Myanmar opposition leader and former dissident Aung Saan Su Kyi. If you have time, I’d encourage you to listen to Aung Saan Su Kyi’s speech given at the Forum (in the below link).

Rosen’s article was pretty thoughtful and I wanted to share some of my takeaways with you.

1) Freedom is relative: Those attending the forum, included libertarians from America, as well as people from around the globe who’ve experienced repression. As a college student, my libertarian friends would often joke with me about wanting to privatize sidewalks. For them freedom meant getting rid of all government intrusion into American daily life, but Rosen’s article reminds me that for people coming from Ethiopia or Myanmar, freedom isn’t about sidewalks, it’s about being free to speak without fear of torture or death. Very sobering stuff.

2) The importance of asking “Why?”: There were also some great quotes by Aung Saan Su Kyi from the meeting,  including the following:

“Why do people commit violations of human rights?” she asked. “Why are ordinary soldiers, taken from our own people, so cruel to us? … Why are we not able to relate to fellow human beings to the extent that we don’t want to hurt them?” Suu Kyi explained that the world’s human rights problems cannot be solved unless “we know what can be done to prevent” people from dehumanizing or abusing one another

Aung Saan Su Kyi is talking about a basic lack of compassion and empathy towards others. It’s a failure to see the person next to us, or even the person living in another country, as a child of God, and our neighbor. It’s frightening and it’s all the more frightening, because I realize as a follower of Jesus, that I still have these huge blind spots and am often guilty of a lack of empathy.

In general, a word I’ve begun to ask more often is “Why?” Why are they acting this way? Why would they say such a thing? I love how Aung Saan Su Kyi embraces this question of “why.” It’s not about condemnation, it’s about beginning a conversation and gaining greater understanding. As she says, it’s about getting to the “root of the matter.” Asking “why” becomes one of the first things we can do to show empathy not only for the victims, but for those who might be characterized as perpetrators. In this way, we can gain a measure of compassion for even those who have done terrible things and who may have hurt us.

Sometimes, it seems to me that Christians are too invested in quick condemnation when we see someone doing something we judge as wrong. It’s almost as if we don’t want to understand, or maybe we’re too afraid of the answers, and yet I cannot help but think this totally misses out on the heart of Jesus. This same Jesus, whom we follow, was full of compassion and empathy when he looked at the crowds following him. Yes, Jesus saw the crowds as sheep without a shepherd, but this did not lead to him to condemn the crowd, instead, it led to him to engage and feed the crowd (Mark 6:34)

3) Recognizing Our Weaknesses: The article ended with another short quote by Aung Saan Su Kyi. In sharing about the slow pace of reform, she shares, “ultimately, there will always be a struggle to free ourselves from our own human weaknesses.”

This is an interesting quote, because it recognizes the constancy of our own human weakness. We’re our own worst enemy. When faced with our human weaknesses, our tendency is to condemn it, attach a social stigma to it, or sometimes even ignore it.  We want to be free of our weaknesses, but part of being human is that it’s a part of us. The sooner we understand that our weakness is part of us, the sooner, we can seek healing and find a way forward.

One person who talked alot about personal weakness in the Bible was Paul. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes our present weakness. He describes us as battered jars of clay. Sometimes, as a jar of clay, we are a poor container for the love of Jesus.

Like Aung Saan Su Kyi, I often wonder about my weaknesses. Maybe Jesus picked the wrong guy? Nevertheless, in the midst of my weakness, I’ve also come to understand how Jesus can be with me.

As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:

I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (MSG)

Have a Blessed Weekend!

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