Wendell Berry, Immigration and Not Being Mean

On Monday night, I went to hear Wendell Berry speak. The great majority of our time was spent listening to him read one of his stories. After he finished, he answered a few questions and the last was regarding immigration law and the controversy which is very tender here in Alabama. He said some things about the matter and made sure no one walked away justifiably smug. Though I’m sure some did.

But the last thing he said is what got the applause and has stuck with me. He said with all the deliberateness of a man his age, with so many years of life saved up, something like – “Let’s stop being mean to people.”

Now granted, Berry could say, “look at that cat” and everyone would clap and cheer. But it’s good advice. So I wanted to say a few things about not being mean when we talk about this issue.

1. The more conservative among can be kind by assuming the best of those who have problems with the law. One way to not be mean is to assume they are feeling and thinking and acting from a desire to be merciful. Even if you cannot agree with them, this is fair. We should be moved by the desire for mercy among us, even when we would not agree with the means or opinions. By not doing this, we may betray our own lack of mercy.

2. The more liberal among us should not caricature the argument as a mere immigration issue. The issue is not just flat immigration but for the great majority of people, illegal immigration. When we leave off the word “illegal” we move the ball and make people out to have convictions they have not espoused. By doing this we may betray our own lack concern for any kind of law we simply don’t like. Added to this is the assumption of lack of mercy for immigrants of any kind for those who want laws on the books. Mercy does not always have to look the same

3. Also, we should not make what is a complex issue, simple. Conservatives want to make the issue simple by only pointing to the law and saying they are breaking the law. Liberals wants to point to the law and say the laws are unjust and leave it at that. One thing I appreciated about Berry’s words were his insistence that this a complex issue which has to do with everything from economics to language to the land we live on and off of.

Listen, I fail at this so often, I can feel it in my gut. But as those who have been given so much grace, we need to be eager to leave off being mean about the issue. Maybe we should focus our passions in the direction of not being mean regardless of where we land on the issue. maybe that’s where our unity should be as those found in Christ.

2 thoughts on “Wendell Berry, Immigration and Not Being Mean

  1. Charles Kinnaird March 2, 2012 / 1:51 pm

    Another Wendell Berry fan! Found a link to your post from the "Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky Internet Resources" site. I was there that night as well and did a blog post. I've also been taking a look at the immigration issue. Glad to find your blog!

  2. Kara March 3, 2012 / 3:24 am

    Well put! This is such a touchy subject these days, and I don't think the solutions are as simple as any of us would like. Kindness sure would go a long way, though.

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