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Tension Deficit Disorder (TDD)

I looked at my wife across the kitchen table and without blinking uttered the horrible words, “If I never see them again in my life, my life will be fine. I don’t need them. I don’t want them. I don’t have to see them. I don’t have to talk to them. I’m fine with that. Do you hear me? I’m perfectly fine with that.”

My wife said calmingly, “I understand.” And while those were good words for me to hear at the time, later she said that she was surprised.

I recently had a heated argument with someone. With so much piss and vinegar in the words we exchanged, I somehow managed to keep my cool, maintained a room-level voice, uttering words of understanding and resolution and even fortitude right up until I hung up my phone. Then I took off my jacket, heaved a big sigh, and fell back into my seat. As the venom continued to sink in, those words reverberating in my mind over and over again like they were trapped in my skull, creating some sort of self-esteem feedback. As the words went from my ears to my heart, I began to weep silently at my desk at work (how I hated these low cubicle walls), and I had to excuse myself a couple of times just to make sure I didn’t draw attention to myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was growing steadily angrier as though the words were now just completely in my bloodstream and having their desired effect on me — which led me to those words that I spoke to my wife about that someone later on that evening.

On the drive home the following evening, as I mentioned before, my wife stated that she was surprised at my response. She recalled that she had heard me threaten that before, to cut someone off completely and then she said something more interesting.

“What you said struck me as something very Asian, as in not very American” she said, not looking at me. “Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve probably done the same thing. I just don’t know how to react and I don’t say anything at the time. There was this one time I went to play tennis in the afternoon at this public neighborhood park, and I went to go ask about something to this lady in the tennis hut or whatever, and the woman said, ‘You know you have to pay to play at these courts.’ Just as I started apologizing, the lady said, ‘Well, I figure if you weren’t smart enough to play at this hour that you probably didn’t know to pay either.'”

“Oh my gosh, that is so rude.” I shook my head.

My wife continued, “Yeah, I know. Later I told my friend (a white woman from Texas, no less) about that and she got all mad for me, saying, ‘I wish someone would say that to me. I would love a chance like that to go off on somebody! Why doesn’t anybody say that stuff to me?!'”

We both laughed since we knew her friend. We certainly could hear it in our minds of her going off on that poor, uncouth woman in the tennis hut.

“Americans enjoy giving people a piece of their mind, especially when they feel like they were the party that was wronged. But you didn’t go off on this person who hurt you, you just want to cut the relationship off altogether — that’s just not American and that’s not healthy either.”

It’s true. I had cut people off in the past and I could recount other people doing it as well, but they were all Asian too. Particular to Asians was the modus operandi that I had exhibited: I took it right on the chin, smiled, never struck back and wanted to walk away forever.

Oh there was no tension, I’m over it — I would think. But perhaps the real, implicit thought was that there is no tension because there is no relationship. If my hand is broken, I don’t chop it off — but in my case, because of a single, albeit heated, argument with this person, I was determined to erase this person from my memory and heart. The thought struck me of how unwilling I was for real, healthy tension to be present in the relationship.

I would rather have had an artificial harmony than natural tension, and that was my sin. I suffer from Tension Deficit Disorder (TDD).

To remove the offense in my mind by eliminating the offender may be Asian, but as my wife observes, is not American (because Americans do enjoy a good rant now and again), but to the deeper cut, it is not Christian. I only got one half of the Gospel right, when I was struck on the left cheek, I offered the right cheek but with a clear condition — you strike me now, but tomorrow I will be gone forever. Jesus said that I should offer my right cheek period. That I must forgive. Furthermore, and even more problematic in my case, is that now I am an offender as well. I am just as wrong for not forgiving as that party who offended me. I have turned one offense into two. I am a sin magician of sorts.

And so it seems that we as Asians are all well-versed in this multiplying sin of supposedly being harmonious without nearly being as cordial. Is it any wonder that so many families silently leave the church with the pastor wondering why? Is it any wonder why so many churches split while smiling through their teeth about how they have learned the goodness of God?

My challenge to my generation is this: will you abide with me despite the tension? Will you forgive me really? Will you heal our church and face the tension? To have a tension deficit may seem peaceful to you now, but it is not a debt you can pay by yourself.

As for me, I’m learning to forgive in close quarters.

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

6 responses to “Tension Deficit Disorder (TDD)

  1. elderj

    Perhaps then I am asian as well, as that is my tendency far more than the other (telling people off) or perhaps it is a function of my southern upbringing. As I’ve had the privilege to work with and learn with AA’s, I have found many things that resonate with my own upbringing, in some ways more than I resonate with other BA’s.

    As for the particularities of your post, I felt convicted as I really want to cut off a relationship in substance and yet retain cordiality. It is so so difficult to follow Jesus’ teaching in this area. Forgiveness is harde; reconciliation is even harder.

  2. John Lamb ⋅

    Is there a humility component to forgiveness and reconciliation? Not esteeming self as better than the offender? If we’re both on the same level, I can’t take offense as easily, because I see my own deficiencies in my brother’s actions toward me.

    Certainly if we love others as the Father loves us, we would offer extravagant affection unconditionally. That would make God the real Sin Magician – he not only vaporizes our sin, but he also neutralizes the power of others’ actions over our view of them.

  3. I very much agree with you John that there is a humility component to forgiveness. I think the nuance that is fascinating to me is that being wronged would be the elevation point. In essence, in the economics of Christ, somehow the point of forgiveness is the point of power. For this reason, many minorities who withstand oppression credit themselves as “stronger”, but perhaps it is, at a deeper level, that we have the power of forgiveness in our midst, and if we fail to recognize and exercise that power, still lends us to sin.

    Here again, the link to Christ is powerfully drawn out. If forgiveness is power and if being wronged raises one up, then Christ does indeed become all powerful. In weakness, he shows his strength. But his strength is fully exercised via forgiveness rather than refuse to interact with creation. The realization of which, on our part, renders the same response as Simon Peter’s, “Away from me, oh Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

  4. djchuang

    I think most people would prefer to avoid conflicts and tensions at all times, unless they’re the stereotypical red-headed Irish or the Hong Kong bus uncle personality type. A majority of people internalize those tensions. The minority who do stand up for themselves, who do voice their disagreements or dislikes vocally and visibly at the drop of a hat, often get marginalized. Now, granted, there is a stronger value for conflict avoidance among Asian cultures than Western cultures, or shall I say there are some Asian distinctives to conflict avoidance that is different from Western ways.

    Back to the point of this post, and to what the Gospel calls us to do and to say, it does come down to living out the ministry of reconciliation, and the call for any one of us to go through the discomforts of conflicts in a tactful and appropriate way, in hopes to restoring relationships, by giving and receiving forgiveness, by confessing sensitivities and offenses.

  5. Jeff Poirrier ⋅

    I’m not asian, but what on earth do you mean that cutting people off completely is very “asian?” That is a pretty subjective generalization and borderline racist, don’t you think? Are you refering to isolationist Japan during the 18th century? Furthermore, how is not cutting people off very “American?” I appreciate the message of forgiveness you are sending, but I simply cannot comprehend your rhetoric or the basis causing you to make these uncouth generalizations.

    • thanks for the comment, jeff.

      sorry for the generalization, but there is a fairly accepted notion that in asian culture, matters of etiquette/offense/saving face are ‘high context.’ ‘high context’ meaning that many social rules are implicit, unspoken, and very subtle. american culture, by contrast, tends to more explicit, more accommodating, and more direct. with interpersonal relations among asians then, this means that in order to avoid conflict or save face, relationships are truncated with a polite shorthand, virtually undetected, and often avoided altogether. so while passive-aggressiveness may be a universal response, it is supported from within the asian culture to begin with. so by “cutting people off” i mean that asians tend to do it with great frequency but with little fanfare, if you will. but even in my anecdotal example, my experience is that caucasians seem to feel more free to give people a piece of their mind than asians. yes, it’s subjective; yes, it’s a generalization; no, it’s not really racist – if you mean, in the negative sense, but it is a matter of cultural nuance. and if you think that i’m completely unfounded or “uncouth”, i think you should do some more investigation. i think you’ll find that people that highly identify with asian culture would agree to this notion of implicit behavior and relationship “cut off” (for lack of a better word) and that it is a familiar phenomenon.

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