picture taken from forbes.com
I just finished having a conversation with someone closed to me who endured an onslaught of anger and insults from a costumer who was unhappy with the experience they were having and not getting the answer they wished to hear. All my friend could do was sit there and take it. With her anxiety rising and the adrenaline of fight or flight pumping through her system, she was unable to either fight nor flight and wait for the whole experience to end.
Maybe you have witnessed something similar to this, sitting embarrassed and feeling terrible for the person being attacked so fiercely. I remember, on two occasions especially, where I was waiting in line to pay for a meal and watched the person serving them being verbally and even physically harassed. I remember the the state of the person when we walked to pay. They would be shaking, unable to think and ready to break down. I have had my own fair share of these experience as well, as I spent many years in retail and sales before pursuing full time ministry. On one occasion, while working at a famous coffee chain, someone actually threw their coffee back through the drive thru window at us, solely because it didn't meet the standards they wished.
Of course, this kind of behaviour isn't isolated to the service sector, but is something I am sure we have seen in all areas of life. Some of it comes down to people having a bad day and projecting that frustration onto the next un-expecting victim, but it makes me wonder what drives people to resort to this kind of dialogue? Or more importantly, what is lacking when people react and choose to lose control? It would seem to me that two key ingredients of healthy and helpful dialogue are missing in these kind of situations: Understanding/Clarification and Empathy/Respect.
In a lot of heated interactions between people, most of the conflict could have been avoided, I would argue, if clarity was brought to the conversation. Over and over again, when I witness two people arguing, in person or online, I usually see an issue of misunderstanding. I would be so bold to say that if we spent as much time trying to understand, ask good questions and really listen to the answer given, we would avoid the majority of our arguments. So often, people don't listen to understand, they simply listen to respond and conversation is simply each person restating their previous position in different words or simply louder. Once we fully understand a person's perspective, it is then that we can start to have real dialogue and have healthy disagreement.
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
In the first story I mentioned above, my friend had explained that this customer was so angry due to misinformation. If she were to have simply asked a question of clarification and was willing to listen to the answer instead of reacting, she would have been informed very quickly that the concern she had was not fully accurate and the solution to the issue was actually quite simple. Problem solved, conflict avoided. Well, except that this person also lacked the second ingredient as well: Empathy/Respect.
While standing in line at a fast food chain, I witnessed a gentleman tearing a strip off this young lady, solely because they got his order wrong. He was yelling and using profanities to convey his point and gave the impression that this mix up ruined his entire life. From what I could tell, this was not the first time this had happened and he was fed up with the results he was getting. Now, in this case, there was no misunderstanding from the costumer, but the reaction was neither respectful or effective in getting the result he wanted and lacked a loads of empathy.
Honestly, if he were to have come to the situation calmly and respectful and explained the issue, I would dare to say that the establishment would have bent over backwards to fix the mistake, in a timely fashion, because they would have realized their mistake and the respect he could have given them as humans would have heightened the willingness to fix the issue. While the opposite is true. As one who has worked in the service industry, if someone bring an attitude of disrespect and yells, your motivation to help that person drops drastically. Not only that, but it should be common understanding that every person deserves basic human dignity and respect and such behaviour is honestly harasment if not abuse.
I have seen similar tactics in dialogue online and in person. In one occurrence, I witnessed someone begin every one of his interaction with an insult to those he disagreed with. Not only is this simply rude and dehumanizes people, it is ineffective. It becomes the quickest way to shut down dialogue and for anyone to actually hear out what you are trying to convey. Think about it, when witnessing a debate and one side chooses to be rude and disrespectful and the other stays calm, cordial and pleasant, who are you more likely to want to take sides with. More times then not, I have wanted to side with the person I disagree with, solely because the other person is being a complete jerk.
Our human interactions should never be boiled down to the smaller denominator and devoid of humanity. We need to remember that the other person we are speaking with has value, is created in God's image and and has a story, otherwise we dehumanize them and we devolve ourselves, becoming more like 'the accuser' than we do the Father. When we take the time to put ourselves in someone else shoes, we can find common ground, see the person we are dialoguing with and though we may disagree with what they believe, we can better understand why they do and if anything not forget their intrinsic value.
People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
If we are to see healthy and helpful dialogue, we need to see greater effort to the return of understanding and respect, clarity and empathy. When this occurs, a funny thing happens, peoples guards come down and become more responsive to what we are trying to say and we actually communicate and not simply proclaim. Because we are willing to give respect/empathy and because we make an effort to understand/clarify the person in turn is willing to give back in kind. Why not give it a try... when you read something or hear something you disagree with or frustrates you, start with seeing that person as, well... and person. And instead of simply responding with your thoughts, start with asking good questions to better understand. Let us be a movement that sees healthy and helpful dialogue in a world full of conflict and disagreement.
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