Some time back I wrote this article for WorldMag.com about defining yourself or your organization by what you are for rather than what you are against. After considering being against (or “againstness” as I’ll call it) here are some further thoughts.
Againstness is lazy. It’s the easiest way to give a label to yourself or to your organization. It’s the easiest way to position yourself. Except that it isn’t truly positioning yourself at all. It’s just floating off the shore of whatever you are against. It doesn’t land anywhere it just avoids certain people/causes/attitudes/etc. It is a pretend label that reveals very little and gives no direction as to what you are trying to be.
It is lazy because it doesn’t require work, just a little observation. All you need to do to be against something is keep an eye out for it and separate yourself from it while declaiming it as loudly as you please. This is true unless, of course, you are the more militant type of againster, in which case you follow the object of your ire around and attack whenever possible. This is no less lazy because you aren’t deciding what to do or where to go, you’re just being an unwitting follower of something or someone you reject.
It is much harder to pursue something, to set a goal and go after it. It requires serious thought to define the goal. It requires constant vigilance and judgment to determine if you are on the right course in the pursuit. It requires regular status checks to see what kind of progress is being made. It is constant motion, constant consideration, constant vigilance to be sure that nothing which you are against is deflecting you off course.
In my own life this is a constant effort. I find it so easy to just try not to be something – not be a legalist, not be a blowhard, not to be too conservative, not to be too liberal, not to be sectarian, and so on. But what am I after all that not being stuff? I need an aim to figure that out, a standard to which I can hold myself. Am I honoring Jesus? Do I love others? Am I doing good and not harm? Am I producing quality work that benefits others?
Pursuing a goal necessitates being against certain things, or at least having no part in them. But being against something does not need to be antagonistic or combative unless these things they threaten your pursuit of your goal. Even then to stand against doesn’t have to mean to tear down as much as it does to stand firm. And we must always remember that these things which we are against are not what primarily defines us.
Lastly, againstness is equally as lazy and unhelpful in a work place as it is in a home or a relationship or a church or a school. If I define my parenting by what I do not want to be I will be so much less of a father than if I aim at raising my children to be something great. It is easy to think “I will not make the same mistakes my parents did”, but if we don’t aim at something we will simply drift as parents. If I seek out a church primarily because of what it’s not I have settled lazily into the same parasitic pattern of againstness. Instead of being part of building God’s kingdom up we will be party to tearing it down.
Againstness is an easy place to land, and an easy thing to rationalize because there is much in this fallen world to be against. But it aims at nothing, takes us nowhere, and gains us little. So aim at what is good, and don’t fall into the trap of just being against againstness