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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Conversely ...

Last week I wrote about another "unpardonable sin", the sin of questioning another person's salvation. It's just not done, you see. We're not allowed to ask. How dare you??!! In the conversation that ensued within and around that post, another question occurred to me. If someone was to question your salvation, how would you respond?

I'm not actually focusing on that question itself. Any criticism will do. When you're taking a salvo of corrective inputs, how do you respond? Most of us, I'm quite sure, respond with self-defense. It's the first thing we tend to pick up -- a shield. And a sword, likely. "Oh, yeah? Take that!" Fight or flight. That's the norm. But what we never seem to pick up first is ... a mirror. "Is this input accurate?"

I'm no super-saint. My typical first response to an attack is defense. Sometimes it's fight and sometimes it's flight, but it's not often, "Are they right?" I suppose my personality also tends me toward surrender. "Yeah, you're right ... I'm a loser." That's the first response ... but not necessarily what comes out. What comes out is, more and more, an attempt at reasoned response. Here's what I want my response to be. "Thanks for the input. I'll consider what you say. If it has merit, I'll benefit from the change. If not, thanks for caring enough to tell me." You see, I lose nothing in that response. If I am wrong, I gain correction. If I am right, I still have someone who cared enough to express a concern ... something hard to find these days.

Of course, in this I'm being generous. More often than not the volleys of attacks do not come from friends seeking my best interest. No. Too often, when you take up a position that isn't pleasant for others, the return fire isn't aimed at remedying your error, but in shooting you down. And, truth be told, that "Thanks for caring enough to share with me" response isn't quite appropriate in that case, is it? Because it wasn't care that made them share. It was animosity.

The trick, then, is telling the difference. And I have precious little wisdom to share on that angle. How do we tell the difference between the wounds of a friend and the assault of an enemy? Perhaps it's best to err on the side of charity? I don't know.

What I do conclude, though, is that I should take special care to be clear on which I am doing. If I am attacking because I am offended, I need to stop it. I am not the issue. If I am speaking harsh reality from the motivation of love, I need to express it that way. They are the issue. Although I can never control the response and never insure success, I should make it my goal to be, at a minimum, obedient to the command to love my neighbor and to speak the truth in love. I may not always be able to ascertain the motives of those who disagree with me, but at least guarding my own motivations is a good place to start.


Unknown said...

Good post Stan.
"Thank you for caring enough about me to be honest" is a term I learned in a program our family went through a few years ago and a very valuable one at that.
What goes along with that though is how the "honesty" is presented.
What we learned is that not everyone wants feedback. Asking permission to give feedback first often brings their guard down and opens them up for an honest opinion.
Feedback is a mirror. It doesn't have to be looked at as good or bad, but simply how someone "is". If the person receiving the feedback wants to be perceived differently then they are, they might use that feedback to help them accomplish this change.
I think it was Billy Graham who once said, "I turn my critics into my coaches".
A very wise statement indeed.

Stan said...

If I can keep my wits about me -- that is, if I can engage my brain before my emotions kick out a response -- that's how I choose to see it. "Is what they said true? If so, I gain by correcting an error. If not, I lose nothing." Indeed, it is a very rare friend who is willing to tell me what I need to hear when it isn't something I will like.