Should people turn the other cheek? For the next 1000 words you will disagree with me.
In the sleepy little town of Snowflake, Arizona (you read it right; Snowflake, Arizona) a man named Joey molested a student in the locker room of the high school after a weights class. Just a few short months later, another man named Bryce walked into the local bank, stole $30,010.00 from the business in which he was a partner, after stealing a $10,516 trailer and forging the title into his name.
When both cases were reported, it was nearly impossible to persuade the appropriate leadership to take any action. The leadership in the company turned a blind eye to the theft of over $40,000 and the school leadership flatly refused to call the police on the molester.
When action was finally taken against both men, the townspeople were in an uproar . . . against the people who called the proper authorities! The calls were, “how could you send Joey to prison?” and, “don’t you know a lawsuit could ruin Bryce’s life?”
These anecdotes may portray the town as full of horrible thieves and morally bankrupt people, but it’s quite the opposite. The town is largely LDS, a branch of Christianity with some of the strictest rules concerning behavior this side of the Menonites and the Amish.
The town is full of very kind people who believe that honesty and truthfulness are next to Godliness. You would like visiting Snowflake. You would like it more if you knew someone there. A drive through the town reveals beautiful homes, clean streets and waving neighbors. The populous understands completely that molestation and theft are wrong. And yet these crimes went almost completely ignored. How did these good people see the accounts of these actions, and turn a blind eye?
The answer is disagreeableness.
But not how you think.
Most psychologists categorize human personality into 5 factors. They are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. The acronym OCEAN is often used as a reminder. Kendra Cherry outlined what are called the Big 5 in her April 2018 article in verywellmind.com where she explains that each trait is a range, or spectrum. She says. . .
-It is important to note that each of the five personality factors represents a range between two extremes. For example, extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion. In the real world, most people lie somewhere in between the two polar ends of each dimension.-
Where a person lands within the range of each category tells us a lot about that person. I’m sure you can think of someone you know who is extremely introverted, and their counterpart who is the life of the party. Strictly based on those personality traits, I can quickly assess that your introverted friend is quieter than your extrovert amigo. They are also much more calm. These are the traits of those respective factors.
Then there is agreeableness. It sounds more like a positive personality trait rather than a spectrum. Shouldn’t we all want to rank as high as possible on the agreeable spectrum?
The answer is absolutely not.
I’m sure you don’t agree with me at this moment. But after I describe the dimensions of agreeableness to you, you will be certain I am wrong.
Agreeableness encompasses attributes such as kindness, cooperation and trust. People who rank high on the agreeableness scale are said to care more about people other than themselves while their low-ranking counterparts are more competitive. They care less how others feel and have little trouble insulting those around them.
So why would anyone want to be disagreeable? Why be the person who insults their peers?
Because it can be the kindest thing we do.
Joey pinned down a younger, smaller, weaker student. Prior to the commencement of any felonies a very agreeable weights coach named Art walked onto the scene of the large, strong adult man holding down the younger student against his will and said, “that’s enough.”
Then he left.
He abandoned the victim at the moment the victim needed him the most. Art was much too agreeable to intervene.
When the victim told his parents they immediately went to the school. Larry, the principle said, “that’s just boys being boys.” Larry was too agreeable to cause a ruckus.
Where Was The Principle?
The family went to the police who conducted an investigation and charged Joey with multiple felonies. The question from the investigator was, “Why did the parents have to call us? Where was the principle?” The answer, he was busy being agreeable.
When Hollace, the Superintendent was forced to take action against the coach who turned his back on the victim, he gave Art one day off before the Thanksgiving holiday. Hollace was just to agreeable to do much more.
When the community came together to take a stand, the result was a group that raises money for the school. When pressed as to why they didn’t fight to have Art fired they said, “we don’t want to do anything negative.” The same school that let down one of their students, the same faculty that flatly refused to take action was rewarded by the community with proceeds from bake sales and car washes. The town was too agreeable to disrupt the status quo.
The victim and his family left town. The harassment and vandalization they received from a few of Joeys friends went unpunished and was more than they cared to handle. The townspeople and their Christian beliefs were just to agreeable to stand up against the aggressors.
One of the characterizations of Christianity is described as turning the other cheek, a phrase borrowed from the Sermon on the Mount. It has been used to describe incredibly kind acts, like the kind treatment of POWs in Communist Korea. In largely Christian societies this act of agreeableness is highly regarded. But it is not something that is universally taught in the New Testament the way it is interpreted now. In Matthew 5:39, during the famed Sermon, Jesus says, “if a man strike you on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well.”
Turn The Other Cheek
But the sermon is wrought with metaphor. In the same sermon Jesus said, “Ye are the salt of the earth,” and likened good works of men to light. It is not a section of the Bible that can be taken literally. Aquinas wrote the following regarding the turn the other cheek passage.
“To interpret the injunction of the Sermon on the Mount literally is to misunderstand it. This injunction signifies rather the readiness of the soul to bear, if it be necessary, such things and worse without bitterness to the attacker.”
It has been explained that Jesus was not teaching Christians to lay down in the face of evil, rather to stand up to evil while resisting the urge to hate the evildoer. Turn the other cheek is not a charge to cowardice. It is a call for self-control while fighting evil. In my book SWAY, I laid out the influence of those on the autism spectrum (very convincingly I must say), but their influence does not come from weakness. It comes from strength in their convictions.
When Bryce stole over $40,000 he was mad at his business partner, John. The week prior Bryce insisted the company make his friend Scott a third partner. Bryce explained that he wasn’t comfortable moving forward without Scott as partial owner. John refused to bring Scott on. So Bryce asked the accountant, L’Erin how much money was in the account. She explained there was $35,000 but a $5000 bill was due, plus payroll for the week.
Bryce, in his fit, explained to L’Erin he was cleaning out the account. He was putting all of the company money in his personal account and he would pay her from that account. L’Erin was just too agreeable to say no.
Unfortunately Bryce stole his partner John’s paycheck and did not give it back. Nor did he pay the crew that was working the week prior. Because that crew was John’s sons, who were filling in for Bryce and his sons while they were on vacation at the beach. Bryce stole the paychecks of his partner and his partners sons and L’Erin never made a peep, because that would be disagreeable.
Just A Reaction
Curt, the project manager also knew about the stolen money. Bryce paid him with a personal check as well. When asked why he didn’t say anything to anyone about what was happening, his answer was, “Oh, that was just Bryce’s reaction.” Curt was just to agreeable to make waves.
We value agreeableness. The guy who never says anything negative and the lady who always has a compliment hold a special place in our hearts, as they should. It is right and good that we value those behaviors. It is a heuristic we use to gauge each other.
But we have to pay attention to context.
Turning the other cheek means standing up to wrong without hating the wrongdoer.
It is a lesson I am learning while I try to curtail my anger towards a man who assaulted my sons friend and another who stole my sons paychecks. I do not struggle with the standing up portion, it is the other part that is hard for me. I look forward to the day when I automatically get this right.
But today it is hard.
What It Takes
Agreeableness has a place, probably in most situations. But it takes a level of disagreeableness to make change. Steve Jobs was disagreeable enough to disrupt the idea of what a phone was. Gutenberg had enough disagreeableness to change how we record information. Disagreeableness is mandatory to force good onto evil. It took disagreeableness to fight for civil rights, stop the charge of Hitler and even for Jesus to fight against the evils of the first century.
So why would anyone want to be disagreeable?
Because in order to stop bad things, we have to stand up to bad things, which takes a level of disagreeableness. When Art was too agreeable to step in it was cruel, not kind. When L’Erin was too agreeable to stop or report theft it was a felony, not friendliness.
Why be the person who insults their peers?
Because we have to call out wrong when we see it, and calling someone a thief or a child molester is an insult.
Even when it’s true.