Please don’t test my better nature

For over a year now, I have been focusing my work on detecting and identifying affect and behavior in learning environments. Predominately, this work has been tech-based learning platforms, e.g., students participating in intelligent tutoring systems and serious video games, but I’ve also begun to do work in much less structured environments. Being skilled at this detection work, it doesn’t take me very long to construct meaning from discourse.


However, I know full well that the constructing of meaning from utterances alone is a fool’s task, because what we say and what we mean is not usually the same thing. Luckily enough for me, I’m good at ferreting out the subtext of utterances: analyzing them, reinterpreting them, placing them in a context that renders them substantively more meaningful than their phonemic parts. I’m so good, in fact, in translating everyday parlance that it stuns me not a little bit when speech actually matches subtext and intentions with such ferocity that it defies any attempts at reinterpretation. I find this particularly true when words are used to hurt or distance one person from another; usually the text and the intent is so well aligned there can be no misunderstanding, no room to pretend the distress was due to carelessness or random error.


When well-aligned text hits its mark, I’m faced with two options: retaliation or alienation. My faith is actually pretty clear at which is the better path. Matthew 18:8 says, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” I have always extended this understanding to include instances when a person causes you to disrespect and devalue your very self, than that person should be cut off from your life than continue to be welcomed in your life to persist in the pain making.


But if you read a little further in 18:15-17, things get a little more complicated. Matthew says the following: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”


Now, this heathen tax collector thing is a bit of a slippery slope, because at the time when Jesus said this the good people of Yahweh would shun heathens and tax collectors. However, Jesus made it clear in his teachings that we should welcome the heathens and tax collectors to our table – should they come willingly to said table.


My interpretation of this seemingly inconsistent precept is this: I have every right to remove those people from my life who seek to hurt and devalue me, but I must also be willing to forgive, should forgiveness be sought. Even if all I really want is have them take a long walk off a really short pier.