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Calm • Perspective

What Would Jesus Do?

There is a tradition within the Christian church of training ourselves to ask, especially at moments of particular difficulty: What would Jesus do now?

 Antonello da Messina, Christ Blessing, 1465

This unusual exercise picks up on an observable phenomenon of the mind. Once we have read and seen enough of someone, we can without too much difficulty surmise the sort of things they would be likely to say in response to a situation. We may not be experts in the gospels but we can tell well enough what a loving, tender, forgiving Jesus-like move would be. We just don’t generally have recourse to it, because the idea doesn’t enter our minds, because we aren’t trained to consciously model ourselves on anyone — and therefore don’t imagine we even have an option to improve on our first, generally more frantic and egoistic impulses.

What is poignant is that this doesn’t mean we aren’t modelling ourselves on someone, it’s simply that the process of modelling isn’t conscious. In truth, the way we speak to ourselves and others is continuously yet unconsciously derived from the way in which people used to speak around us when we were growing up. And, unfortunately for us (and those who have to live in our vicinity), these people were rarely paragons of maturity and serenity. Without knowing it, we bring some of the anger and drama of our forbearers into play in a present which seldom deserves them.

The Christian exercise is ripe for secular re-adaptation. We should — at small and large moments — intentionally train ourselves to ask: What would a kind, calm and mature person do or say now? We can summon this person at will, they merely normally lack encouragement and a platform. When we are about to lose our tempers, they should smile kindly at us and say, ‘not now.’ When we feel ourselves ready to make an unfair accusation, they should gently counsel a break and a walk outside.

We can’t be responsible for the way others used to speak to us; but we can endeavour to moderate and modulate the voices we have recourse to henceforth — and therefore come more regularly to ask ourselves, as we prepare to slip into meanness and fretfulness: What would someone less agitated and wounded than me do now? 

The healthy adult we need to lean on is already inside us. We just need to prompt them to speak and then listen to them closely when they do so.

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