Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I'm offended!

I'm not really offended, but a lot of people are. There are a lot of people carrying around a sack full of grudges slung around the chip on their shoulder. It really amazes me how easily we allow ourselves to be offended on the one hand, and how careless we are with our words on the other. I'm sure that each of us has been on both ends of this equation from time to time in our lives. I think it's worth addressing for that reason alone, but also because of the tremendous damage that is done to families, churches and communities over this thing called offense.

When we drill down into the root cause of much of the damage, we often find that it stems from a misunderstanding; and that usually springs from poor communication. So, what I'd like to do is talk a little bit about communication in this blog. For those of you who have sat through my pre-marital counselling, consider this a review.

Let's first state that this is a very serious problem, whether within Christian circles or otherwise. I'm going to come at this from a Christian perspective however. If we take the Bible seriously, we first have to admit that all of the dissension is, very simply, wrong. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:18 "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." That's pretty clear, but if it's not strong enough, try Ephesians 4:3, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

So it's important to get along, but how best can we do that? I've found that there are a few keys that have worked well for me that I've picked up over the years. The most important is something called "good will." Good will is really a frame of mind. It's the assumption that the person that we're dealing with means well and wants the best for us. It may be naive, but I find that it's a lot better than trying to pick a fight with everybody I talk to. When we have good will, we're giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.

This attitude leads to a healthy internal dialogue. When someone says something that strikes us the wrong way, instead of assuming they're being a jerk and reacting accordingly, thus escalating the situation, we instead can look for a way to get to the root of the problem. I find this is particularly helpful in marriage situations. We often fall into bad habits of fighting to win an argument, rather than trying to communicate. Our spouse will say something that strikes us the wrong way, and we immediately jump to the defensive. They then get defensive and round, round we go. Try this instead. Ask yourself whether you heard them correctly. After all, haven't we all been misunderstood before? Wouldn't we have appreciated it if someone had given us the benefit of the doubt and dug a little deeper?

Communication is a complicated thing sometimes. An idea may be completely clear in my mind, but by the time it's filtered through my vocabulary, out my mouth, into your ears, filtered through your vocabulary and assigned a meaning by you, chances are it's not exactly what was intended. So, communication should really be defined as "a meeting of meanings." When what I intend to say is what you understand me saying we've communicated - maybe not agreed, but communicated.

So in order to be a better communicator, try to apply this time-honoured principle: "Seek first to understand then to be understood." For many people, what they're really looking for is simply to be heard. You never know, you might actually learn something. I've found that if you dig deeper when having a disagreement with someone, you may not be as far apart as you thought.

Another principle to remember at times is that on some points you may just have to agree to disagree. Some wise man said that "If you make everything a life or death issue, you're going to be dead a lot." Please admit that you're not always right. In fact, those of you who think you're always right are extremely offensive to those of us who actually are! It's alright to hold a position that is different from someone else. Just be sure that you're respectful of the other person's right to hold theirs.

Admit when you're wrong. I understand this is hard for some, but when everyone else knows you're wrong, you might as well admit it and apologize. People will not think less of you, quite the opposite actually. They will appreciate your honesty. A sincere apology can go a long way to repairing damaged relationships.

Jesus said, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matt. 7:12) Each of us wants to be understood. We want for people to think well of us. We want people to try to get along with us, to be loved, to be valued. Do yourself a favour, reach up and take the chip off your shoulder and smile at the next person you meet, it's likely they're having a bad day. Help make it better.
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