Trustworthy Wounds

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Proverbs 26:20-28, 27:6Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.  As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.  The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; They go down to a man’s inmost parts.  Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart.  A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.  If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it; if a man rolls a stone, it will roll back on him.  A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.  Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.  (NIV 1984)

Proverbs 12:15-19The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.  (NIV 1984)

Learn to Argue – People generally quarrel because they cannot argue. (G.K. Chesterson)

The Art of “Arguing” – People who are skilled at dialogue have the confidence to say what needs to be said to the person who needs to hear it [not behind their back – “words of a gossip are like choice morsels“], without brutalizing them or causing undue offense [“wounds from a friend can be trusted“]. But this confidence does not equate to arrogance, pigheadedness, threats, accusations or disrespect. They are humble enough to realize that they do not have a monopoly on the truth.

There are five distinct skills that can help us talk [argue] about even the most sensitive topics:

Share your facts – Facts are the least controversial way to begin a crucial conversation, because facts by their very nature are uncontroversial. Be careful to not “spin” the facts, embellish the facts or omit facts (“the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”). This will derail a crucial conversation before it even gets started. “speak the truth (facts) in love.” Do not rub their nose in it. Facts are the most persuasive and the least insulting.  They form a foundation believability, that lays the groundwork for all delicate conversations. But make sure they are facts and not conclusions. That comes next.
Tell your side of the story – With the facts properly laid out, you can tell your side of the story. The conclusions you have drawn. If you have thought through the facts, your conclusions (story) should be viewed as reasonable, rational, decent and deserving of being considered.
Ask for others’ views – If done sincerely, this demonstrates humility. Be open to having your mind changed. If your aim is to be “right” and win the “fight” you are not being sincere.  If your aim is to determine what is right and walk in the light, you just might find that you were wrong and fighting the wrong battle.
Talk tentatively – Do not share the facts or tell your story in a dogmatic fashion. One of the ironies of dialogue is that, when talking to those holding opposing positions, the more convinced and forceful you act, the more resistant others become. The more tentatively you speak, the more open people are to your story and conclusions. But you don’t need to be wimpy either. Strike a just right “Goldilocks” balance. Just because you back off on how you state your beliefs, does not mean you have to back off on your beliefs.
Encourage testing – At this point, you can argue as vigorously as you want for your point of view, provided you are just as vigorous at encouraging others to challenge or even disprove it. Remember, the truth is never afraid of open and honest dialogue. It is okay to have strong opinions and vigorously defend them. Just remember that the other person is entitled to the same. (Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. McGraw Hill, 2012)

If we S-T-A-T-E things this way, we improve the odds of having a favorable outcome.  Even if we do not win or change your mind, we can still agree to disagree and preserve the relationship.

My Musings – If the beliefs we hold are the truth, we want others to believe them too.  How we present our case can go a long ways toward convincing the other.  Done thoughtfully and caringly, even if we lose the “argument,” we are more likely to at least win respect and preserve the relationship.  And that respect, might eventually carry the day.  On the other hand, if done thoughtlessly and uncaringly, even if we win the “argument” respect and the relationship may be permanently damaged.

My Advice – Do not merely argue the truth, argue it in a thoughtful and caring way

Submissive Humility

1 Peter 5:5Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. Clothe yourself in humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (NIV 1978)

My Musings – We should never be too proud to learn from the age and experience of others. This includes those who may be younger than we are chronologically, but more mature than we are in the faith.

My Advice – You’ve learned much in school, but there is much also to be learned from those who are older and have more experience. Continue to learn now that you have graduated, and even later in life when you are the elder one with more experience.

Prepared for Gentle Respect

1 Peter 3:15But in your hearts set apart Christ Jesus as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (NIV 1978)

My Musing – In a world with little hope, Christians should stand out because of their hope. This is likely to raise questions. Questions we should be able to answer (although many are unprepared). We should not be arrogant or condescending in our replies. The lost deserve our pity and compassion, not a “holier-than-thou” response.

My Advice – Be gentle in your responses. Respect their right to choose for themselves. Do not lose your gentleness if they do not choose Christ. There may be another time and how you respond to them now may make some difference later.

As Far As It Depends On You

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Romans 12:18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (NIV 1984)

Attitude – The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.  And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes. (Chuck Swindoll)

Emotions – Emotions don’t settle upon you like a fog.  They are not foisted upon you by others.  No matter how uncomfortable it might make you feel by saying it – others don’t make you mad.  You make you mad.  You make you scared, annoyed or insulted.  You and only create your emotions.

Once you’ve created your own emotions, you have only two options:  You can act on them or be acted on by them.  That is, when it comes to strong emotions, you either find a way to master them or fall hostage to them. (Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. McGraw Hill, 2012)

My Musings – Life is full of people thinking the worst of us, saying unkind things about us and doing terrible things to us.  These are the things that are “foisted upon [us] by others.”  We cannot stop them from happening, “we cannot change the inevitable.”  What we can change is how we “react to [them].”  More specifically, do “we act on [master] them” or are we “acted on by [fall hostage to] them?” The choice is ours.

My Advice – Living at peace with certain people will not always depend upon what we think, say or do. “We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.”  Nevertheless, we need not respond in kind.  We must do our best to stay “in charge of [both] our attitudes [and emotions].”  It may not be easy.  Doing the right thing is rarely is.

Whenever, Because, So That

James 1:2-4Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIV 1978)

My Musings – Trials will come. We need not be joyful about the trial itself, but we should be joyful about what it can produce in our lives.

My Advice – Persevere under trials. Do not despair. Do not give up. Look for the lesson. Ask God what He is trying to show you or teach you, and learn the lesson well.

I Did It My Way

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James 4:1-3What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives.  (NIV 1984)

Regrets, I’ve Had A Few – Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.  (Ambrose Bierce)

But Then Again, Too Few To Mention? – When faced with pressure and strong opinions, instead of adding constructive dialogue, we often look for ways to win, punish or keep the peace.

Win – We may attempt to correct the “facts,” quibble over details, and/or point out the flaws in others’ points of view, with a view to winning. The truth at all costs (even if we happen to be right) loses out over our truth at all costs. And the costs could be very high in terms of broken relationships.

Punish – As our passion rises, we may move from merely wanting to win to also punishing those who disagree.  It is no longer good enough to win, we must make the other(s) regret challenging our truth.  Why would we want to vindictively punish someone we care about?  Down deep (in the heart of the matter) we don’t.  But on the surface (in the heat of the matter) we do. And the costs could be very high in terms of the inability to eventually repair broken relationships.

Clam Up – Then there is the other extreme, we become so focused on keeping the peace and avoiding conflict, that we go to silence. We avoid making waves. As a result, we accept the certainty of bad results (which includes no resolution). We don’t have enough trust in the relationship to take the risk of hurt feelings.  And the costs could be very high in terms of relationships that do not grow.

Heart – When any of these begin to occur (win, punish, clam up), we need to refocus. What are my true motives? What do I really want, for myself, for others, and for the relationship? This helps us regain our bearings, the “North Star” on our moral compass. We need to clarify what we really want and what we really don’t want.  People skilled at moving through crucial, high-stakes issues start with the heart, in order to keep their motives pure and to stay focused. They do not allow themselves to become motivated by winning at all costs, punishing or avoiding the issue altogether. (Notes from Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. McGraw Hill, 2012.)

My Musings – We won’t always win the argument, sometimes because we are on the wrong side of it.  But even if we are right, we should take care that we don’t win the argument and lose the heart.

My Advice – Start with the heart and stay with the heart.  Do it “His” way.

Fool’s Choice

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James 1:19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (NIV 1984)

My Musings – My dad often said we have one mouth and two ears, meaning we should listen twice as much as we speak.  We listen because the other party might be right.  It happens.  But being “slow to speak” does not mean we do not speak at all.   The other party might be wrong.  It also happens.  And if the stakes are high (not trivial), it is crucial that we do speak up.  A true friend does not withhold the truth, even if it may hurt.  But how we speak the truth (in love, gentleness and respect) is just as crucial.

Silence Matters – Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (Martin Luther King Jr.)

The Fool’s Choice – The mistake most of us make when dealing with things that matter is that we mistakenly believe the choice is between telling the truth and keeping a friend (not making an enemy), between candor and kindness.  But when it comes to risky, unpopular, controversial or emotional issues (where the stakes are high), skilled (brave?) people find a way to get all of the relevant information (from all parties) out into the open.  They dialogue (taking part in a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem).

Remaining silent, will rarely resolve any issue.  People skilled at dialogue do not remain silent, and they do their best to make it safe for everyone to share in the dialogue.  Even when the other’s views appear at odds with their own beliefs.  Those unskilled at dialogue, if they do not remain silent, will resort to outright attacks (sarcasm, caustic comments, verbal attacks) or subtle manipulation and passive-aggressive behavior (innuendo, playing the martyr, body language).

We begin with differing opinions, beliefs and history.  Whether we remain silent or we attack  the truth is rarely revealed and we are not being a true friend. (Notes from Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. McGraw Hill, 2012.)