I came across this pithy phrase some months ago and stored it in my memory thinking that would come in handy at some point. Well now it has, especially as we prepare to enter the beautiful but challenging seasons of Lent and Passiontide. “Calibration drift” is when the icons and on-screen buttons of all our various electronic devices don’t immediately respond to our touch or don’t respond at all. Whether it’s through over use or something inherently faulty with the machine I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s probably because one presses on the same spot so often, and I guess so heavily or forcefully that it simply won’t respond properly anymore and what you get is not what you’re asking the machine to do!
It struck me that “calibration drift” is what we can all suffer from spiritually and emotionally speaking from time to time. Those around us, especially family can make such repeated and repetitive demands of us day by day, hourly or even moment by moment, with babies, infants and sick and frail family members – that we can get to the point where we give a half-hearted response or we just go through the motions of routinely being helpful but not necessarily responding with the generosity of heart we might have started out with. Then the flip side of this analogy is that we can also “push one another’s buttons” in family too. That is to say, we often know the emotional trigger points in a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling to the extent that in a fit of pique to get the better of them in an argument say, we exploit their own inner emotional “calibration drift” – by pushing that inner emotional “button” just that little bit harder because we want to provoke a response; and then what do we get? A response that’s explosive, angry and even aggressive? I know it’s happened all too often in my own family background and history and let’s be honest if it’s familiar but unseemly territory to you, then we know it isn’t pretty! In fact I am mindful of that rich insight of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 3:12 : ‘Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins.’ I have put the emphasis upon “quarrel” here because it took me a long time to know and understand the distinction between an argument, valid dispute or even a heated discussion especially within families and between spouses and that argument/discussion effectively turning in to a slanging match and becoming a very ugly and even nasty quarrel. This is why St. Paul (who says so many wise things about harmony in the home) gives the warning that we must never allow an argument to turn in to a quarrel. It’s not that we cannot recover from them; by God’s grace and our willingness to be reconciled, we can, thank the Lord. But if allowed to happen too often without proper deep-down healing, memories of past hurts or hurtful things spoken in anger, become harder and harder for relationships to recover from. Which is why the saying ‘The family that prays together stays together’ is not a hackneyed old cliché!
So we must be very careful about how we conduct an argument. A recent article by papal biographer George Weigel puts this very well in making a distinction between expressing oneself passionately but always with civility; “sound moral judgment is rarely, if ever, the child of anger” he says.
Weigel, against the backdrop of current American presidential campaign politics, says:
The United States did not begin in a spasm of anger, although there were surely anger-driven incidents before and during the Revolution. And if history’s longest experiment in democratic republicanism is to reach its 250th anniversary, a mere ten years from now, in moral continuity with its founding, it won’t get there through an anger-defined, anger-driven, and anger-dominated politics. It will only get there through a rebirth of genuine political argument, which is a rational, not a glandular, thing.
If we exchange the way he describes a nation for our families and homesteads, founded upon the unique history of the married love of the current generation and those before us, then that “revolution” was a revolution of love. A mutual exchange of giving of such wondrous unconditional proportions between successive generations of parents/spouses that we must preserve its collective and personal memory with passion and passionately, yes; but never anger or, worse still, quarrels.
I think one of the things that can so easily wind us up in family life is lack of consistency. And in turn, our own lack of consistency or continuity of approach to things especially when it comes to raising our children. Nothing irritates children more I think when adults are not consistent with them or change the “rules” at whim and caprice. It can damage our credibility in their eyes if we’re not supremely careful. So here’s a thought; when Jesus, in commissioning His disciples to go out on mission to proclaim the Gospel, told them not carry a “second tunic” (Mark 6) – He was exhorting them not to be duplicitous; no hypocritical disguises or acting in two different ways on the same matter. As we begin to enter the ‘desert’ of Lent, ridding ourselves of some of those facades and extra baggage we carry around, imagining we’re protecting ourselves by clinging on to them, might be something worth working on on the journey to Easter glory and joy where we will feel spiritually and morally “re-calibrated” but we won’t (God willing) have allowed ourselves to ‘drift’ there.