TRUE TOXIC (article) – by Abidan Paul Shah, PhD
(originally published in the Daily Dispatch, Henderson on August 27, 2022)
About five years ago, I wrote an article titled “How to Handle Toxic People.” It was my self-reflection after an encounter with a “toxic person” that left me feeling horrible, and how, with God’s grace, I was able to move forward. Little did I realize the impact that article would make on people everywhere. I received emails, letters, texts, and phone calls thanking me for the article. People I had never met stopped me in grocery stores or came by our table at restaurants, just to tell me how much it had helped them. One gentleman even carried a copy of the article in his wallet and glanced at it every day before facing the toxic people in his life. Clearly, God used the article as an antitoxin in many lives that had been victimized by someone, and it helped them to heal and forgive. I even wrote a follow-up article that year.
Unfortunately, since then, the definition of the word “toxic” has unduly expanded. Kaitlyn Tiffany, in her article in The Atlantic titled, “That’s It. You’re Dead to Me,” explains that toxic is now “meant to apply to close friends, siblings, partners, parents. The message–implied if not always stated outright–is that other people are simply not my problem.” All that matters anymore is one’s own happiness and fulfillment. “Deciding which people to keep in or out of one’s life has become an important strategy to achieve that happiness,” remarks Joshua Coleman in his article in The Atlantic titled, “A Shift in American Family Values Is Fueling Estrangement.” In other words, it’s a matter of time before you may find yourself on the toxic list of someone close to you.
What is the source of this unbridled and unwarranted labeling? Cancel culture. The recent craze of cutting someone out of our Twitter feed and shunning them has now trickled down into our everyday relationships. If parents are the source of some pain, they are cut off. If friends are the source of some hurt, they are shunned. Instead of asking whether or not the pain was some correction or rebuke for one’s benefit, it is automatically assumed that it is toxic. So also, there is no room left for reconciliation–the only verdict is “toxic,” and the only judgment is the severance of the relationship. Furthermore, in the past, we turned to those who could guide us through conflicts with wisdom, especially godly wisdom from the Bible, but now some meme on Facebook and Instagram or some influencer on TikTok is considered far superior. A one-liner from someone with a pretty face, a charismatic personality, and the latest fashion is taken as gospel truth regarding who stays and who goes in our lives.
How long can we go down this slippery slope before we deeply hurt those who have our best intentions in mind? How long before we irreparably damage our closest relationships and become totally isolated from each other? It is high time that we turn to 2 Corinthians 5:18 “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” Memes will fade away and social media influencers may move on to the next craze, but the biblical message of reconciliation will forever stand true. The true toxin is the sin that resides in every heart and separates us from God, but through Jesus Christ, we can be reconciled to God and to each other by his grace.