In the decades, the idea of microaggressions, regular and commonplace interactions that communicated negative and hostile messages to others, garnered increasing attention. A search on Google Trends showed that the concept reached a peak interest in 2015 and since has become more increasingly common in search results than it was prior to 2015. I am personally a bit wary of discussions about microaggressions. My concern isn’t that I don’t think they exist; I think they do. The concern is that we can be tempted to label isolated interactions by themselves as microaggressions, without regard for all the various factors that go into how and why we interact with each other as we do. Nevertheless, there is something real that lurks underneath the idea of microaggressions and it is a concept that I am calling “hardened disregard.”
At the heart of a hardened disregard is a person who is wholly unconcerned for the impacts of how they treat other people, even as attempts to make clear communication with them regarding the situation are either being ignored or blocked. A hardened disregard should be distinguish from people who are ignorant or oblivious of the impacts their behaviors have on others, whether their ignorance is due to the lack of appropriate communication, the a persistent deficit to picking up on social subtleties, etc. A person with a hardened disregard is a person who acts in a way that causes stress, anxiety, hurt, fear, etc. to others but is actively resistant to even consider their own actions. It is important that we don’t confuse hardenness with obliviousness.
However, a hardened disregard should also be distinguished from more extreme and overt forms of aggression. There are people who actively and persistently peddle in aggression of various forms in ways that are glaringly obvious if they were to be observed. People with hardened disregard are not necessarily consciously out to threaten or hurt people, but yet their interactions over time do it while they are unwilling to even consider it. Yet, a person with a hardened disregard may become more overt in their aggression when attempts to get address their behavior is directly brought forward to them. Various forms of aggression and avoidance is one of the ways that those with a hardened disregard keeps themselves insulated from having to consider the consequences of their behaviors.
The thing about a hardened disregard is that it often comes from people who on the surface may appear to be good people. At the care of the problem of a hardened disregard is how we direct our attention. People with a hardened disregard may be all too willing to act the appropriate way when all eyes are on them, but when they are doing something that most people wouldn’t consider important, they shift to having little to no concern. Now we all modulate our attention based upon how important things may be, but for people with a hardened disregard, we might suggest their attention operates more along extreme polarities; their attention and focus becomes a matter of an all-or-nothing matter when it comes to behaviors that are and aren’t consider socially prestigious.
So, for instance, when it comes to racism, a person with a hardened disregard will not use racial epithets nor would that treat people of different ethnicities with blatant hostility and disregard. However, when it comes to the type of behaviors that are not as consider socially important, they may be less willing to adjust their interactions and perceptions, but they become somewhat resistant to change in the less salient matters. They may even become angry when it comes to discussion about the more complex matters of racism. We know this as part of the pattern of covert racism, but it can also be regarding as a specific instance of a hardened disregard.
However, there are many, various instances of hardened disregard that span beyond racism. A hardened disregard can be directed towards any group of persons or even individual person. We are all potentially susceptible to it in various ways and at various times. This can regularly happen in marital relationships when there has been a lot of conflict, where the spouses began to develop a hardened disregard towards each other, often due to the way that they both are unwilling to pay attention.
However, even as those situations exist, it is important to recognize that there are some people who have a wider, more persistent hardened disregard that has a more deleterious impact. They don’t just share a disregard for one person or another or one group or another that can be explained by circumstances and direct experiences. There is something that lurks within them that makes them have a hardened disregard in a rather indiscriminate or easily activated way. Put it differently, their hearts do not represent what is shown on the surface by their more salient, socially observed behaviors. In the words of Jesus to the Pharisees, they are like white-washed tombs.
In fact, if I were to suggest what the problem Jesus sees in the Pharisees, it is in large part in their hardened disregard for the people of Israel, which is rooted in a dark heart that makes them also makes them hardened to God. They are people who on the surface are observers and teachers of the Torah. However, somewhere along the way, there is a disconnect between how they observe and teach Torah and what God is willing. In their hardened disregard, they designate people as sinners who are unworthy of sharing meals together with. They put heavy burdens onto the people they lead, while they themselves rationalize away why they don’t need to obey the commandments of God. Jesus is the opposite in that he eats with sinners and does not place heavy, onerous burdens onto people in terms of difficult and onerous tasks that drain people’s life, even as Jesus teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount, do call us to do things that are often emotionally difficult. Whereas we might imagine the Pharisees to kill people by a thousands cuts, Jesus gives life by singular acts and words of loving compassion.
Resisting a hardened disregard isn’t about going off and being a hero to everyone. It isn’t about accomplishing great feats of love and sacrifice. In fact, it is these sort of things that can actually reinforce the hardened disregard, as the drain of constantly doing what is big and grand can makes us unwilling to give attention and concern for the smaller things that constitute our relationships with others. This is where the moralizing impulse so prevalent in Christianity often times creates the very problem it tries to resist, by making us more “exceptional” in the big things that we have little energy for the mundane things.
However, what if resisting a hardened disregard comes by seeking to live out God’s purposes in the mundane things, the small things, the things that society doesn’t really care about that prepare us to love also in the bit things, without sacrificing in the small things. What if giving your child those extra few moments of attention is not just building your relationship with them, but also training you for your relationship with others and even God? What if the husband who is just a little more attentive to tell his wife that he loves her when she has gone through a rough period is not just building the bonds of that important relationship, but is a training ground for greatness in how we treat others? What if the church as the Body of Christ is the training grounds for bringing the message hope and redemption to each other, as we by the Spirit speak truth to each other, preparing us to take that very same message to the world? What if it is about giving just a few more percentage points to the things that are seemingly mundane so that we can give it 100% when all eyes are watching?
Unfortunately, the cultural liturgies of society try to tell us do what is important when everyone is watching, but this doesn’t train us so much as it often overexerts us. And, when the unfortunate reality hits that there os a person has been so training by this cultural liturgy that they have developed a deep hardened disregard to others and even to God, sometimes the only way to get through to them is a stark, clear, unambiguous message of anger and potential judgment. This is what Jesus did to the Pharisees in the woe’s in Matthew 23. While rarely does not such a message of judgment immediately change such people’s ways, and it may even lead to a harsh counter-response at times, such a vivid imagery and message has a way of getting into their hearts and minds like a good virus that silently multiplies in the recess of their mind, so that in time a seed may be planted even in them of the way that God loves the world and the way God calls us to love each other. To those who have troubling hearing, something your have to shout to get them to to ever be able to hear in the future, whether it be in one’s tone or in one’s words.
In the end, the ordinary is the training grounds for the extraordinary, where the little, obscure seeds of our life can grow into a tree. However, when we try to go straight towards 100%, trying to focus on going all out, trying to give ourselves to monumental sacrifice in a singular moment, we don’t train our hearts by the word of Christ so much as exhaust ourselves so that we have little to give in the ordinary, mundane, seemingly insignificant moments of life.