Emotional Blackmail in Social Justice

John Piper often speaks of emotional blackmail in relationships when one partner demands of the other that they must bear the responsibility for how they “feel,” whether or not it has any basis in facts or reality. It can be an attempt to dominate without accepting personal responsibility for one’s own behavior or emotional state.

This reminds me that all the calls we are hearing in our country, as in “we need to heal,” can serve nefarious purposes. It can be an attempt to call off people from their just demands or injuries. It can be an attempt to escape responsibility and dominate the other, who, of course, is now responsibile for how one “feels.”

This line of thought ignores the healing power of justice. It can be another way of saying, “don’t hold me responsible.” It can turn “victim” into “victor,” not by any standard of decency and morality but merely by the use of the emotional.

This does not ignore the fragility of people’s emotions and the right desire not to inflict pain, but it does say that this is not the ultimate standard of true reconciliation. Jesse Jackson said something years ago that I often bring to mind. He observed that you can’t tell another person you have injured how loud he can yell. I think this is true. We can seek to diminish the harm we have done by telling the one harmed not to cry so loud.

Yet at the same time, the person doing the yelling must bear some responsibility for how he uses his injury. Does he use it as a victory strategy or does he use it as a true reflection of the depth of the hurt?

I have been a Pastor long enough to see emotional blackmail in its many forms, and it never leads to good places. Sometimes we must move right on past the “we need to heal” to a place of justice, where truly things can be set right again.

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