Photo taken from denisboudreau.org
When I was in my early twenties, I became a very argumentative person. It would seem that in most conversations I was in, where I would disagree with someone, I felt the compelling need to explain why that person was wrong and what they needed to believe. Now don't get me wrong, the idea of challenging someone's worldview and beliefs and presenting what we think is possibly a better perspective isn't bad in itself. But in many cases if the only filter we use to decide if we should speak is 'what' and never ask why we want to push back or how we actually go about doing so, we can easily be taken the wrong way, fall on deaf ears, or worse, actually have wrong motives in our desire to speak.
Let me give you an extreme example in my own life. Full disclosure, this is not my most proud moment as a human being. While at the funeral of a friend's grandfather, my friend started sharing their hopes and thoughts about their grandfather in the afterlife, in an informal conversation after the service and while their grandfather was being placed into the hearse. Without even really thinking, I proceeded to correct the bad theology and thinking that I felt was laced in their ideas. To this day, I am not sure why I even thought that would be the appropriate thing to do.
Though this story is extreme for sure, this kind of conversation and dialogue happens all the time. If you really want to see people digress to the lowest common denominator and see people de-evolve before your eyes, simply head to the comment section of any YouTube video. I am not sure what motivates us to become so violent and vulgar in our words that we are ready to kill, but I believe we need to be intimately reminded of the dangers of the tongue:
NOT MANY OF YOU SHOULD BECOME TEACHERS, MY FELLOW BELIEVERS, BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT WE WHO TEACH WILL BE JUDGED MORE STRICTLY. WE ALL STUMBLE IN MANY WAYS. ANYONE WHO IS NEVER AT FAULT IN WHAT THEY SAY IS PERFECT, ABLE TO KEEP THEIR WHOLE BODY IN CHECK... THE TONGUE ALSO IS A FIRE, A WORLD OF EVIL AMONG THE PARTS OF THE BODY. IT CORRUPTS THE WHOLE BODY, SETS THE WHOLE COURSE OF ONE’S LIFE ON FIRE, AND IS ITSELF SET ON FIRE BY HELL... ALL KINDS OF ANIMALS, BIRDS, REPTILES AND SEA CREATURES ARE BEING TAMED AND HAVE BEEN TAMED BY MANKIND, BUT NO HUMAN BEING CAN TAME THE TONGUE. IT IS A RESTLESS EVIL, FULL OF DEADLY POISON. WITH THE TONGUE WE PRAISE OUR LORD AND FATHER, AND WITH IT WE CURSE HUMAN BEINGS, WHO HAVE BEEN MADE IN GOD’S LIKENESS. OUT OF THE SAME MOUTH COME PRAISE AND CURSING. MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, THIS SHOULD NOT BE. JAMES 3:1-10
The tongue has the potential to give life but also bring death. It can be used to lift people up or tear them down. It is an animal that is not easily tamed. A matchbook in the hands of a toddler. A weapon that can bring great destruction. The human race as a whole, too easily and hastily run headlong, fists swinging. Too often, we are too quick to think we are teachers when we don't even fully understand the power our tongue has. Our fingers are on the trigger ready to pull at first the glance of trouble. We, much too often, are inexperienced and we lack wisdom, love, grace and empathy. For that reason alone, we should be quick to take the posture of pupil and not be quick to think we are a master. We should be "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).
DON'T FALL INTO THIS TRAP
Even if what I held as truth was right in the above scenario, in no circumstances was that appropriate. I lacked loads of self-awareness of the timing of my words, the empathy for the person I was speaking to and their pain. Truly, there was no good reason or need for correction. I spoke words of death when I had all opportunity to be used to speak life. I had a hurting person before me and my calling in that moment should have been comforter, not teacher. My intentions were not malicious and I wasn't even mean in how I expressed myself, but I was flat out wrong to assume every instance demands a defence of truth or that 'truth' trumps love.
No matter if your intentions are right and your heart is filled with concern and love, be careful that your method and timing communicates that reality. Make sure that you are fuelled by empathy and love and not simply full of knowledge. Because "knowledge puffs up, while love builds up." (1 Corinthians 8:1). Knowing the right answer and being right isn't enough, it must be fuelled by love. Love needs wisdom and wisdom thinks on how we speak (the words, tone, body language), why we are speaking (motivation and purpose) and even if we should speak at all (does this situation warrant it?). For example: sometimes, true wisdom isn't knowing what to say, but if something should even be said at all. If we feel that truth should be spoken no matter the situation, maybe we should not speak at all.
Maybe this guiding principle will help: If you want to correct someone, maybe you shouldn't. But if you don't want to correct someone, but you know you need to, maybe you are the right person to do it. When it comes to interpersonal relationships and dynamics, there is no hard fast rule, but ultimately, what I am saying is: do a gut check and ask yourself, "what are your motivations for this?"
IF I HAVE THE GIFT OF PROPHECY AND CAN FATHOM ALL MYSTERIES AND ALL KNOWLEDGE, AND IF I HAVE A FAITH THAT CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS, BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I AM NOTHING. 1 CORINTHIANS 13:2
Maybe you are thinking: but if I see a fault, isn't the most loving thing to do is correct that fault for their own good? I mean Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, 'If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over." For the sake of argument, let's assume for a second that this isn't about a debated issue, and you are not simply forcing your convictions onto someone else. Let's say that this person's actions are unwise, destructive and sinful and you are the only one who is able to point this out. With all that, we also need to consider how we will actually communicate that truth. Simply making a point and/or defending truth does not necessary bring about change. Be careful not to solely focus on the first half of the passage and negate the second half. It isn't good enough that we simply correct, make our point, show that we are right, if that person doesn't actually hear us, because in the end we will have failed and not "won them over".
Are we simply looking to make a point, to be right, to stand for truth, or are we looking to actually resonate with the person, hear what they are saying and see real change. Much too often we see people ready to take a stand and make a point, but in the end they only drive the people they are trying to win over further away from their goal. We nee to make sure we are not simply filtering our decision to speak up through the lens of what, but also how and why. Not everything needs to be said all the time, all at once or to every person.
Let's not simply stop throwing hand grenades over the wall, but let us also tear down that wall. Sometimes we need to listen and really listen to understand, not simply to respond. Sometimes a well-placed question to cause someone to think, is so much more powerful than declaring truth. Sometimes, they simply need to take one step towards change instead of us trying to convince them of everything all at once. And sometimes, we need to say nothing because the truth we hold, may be the worse thing for them to hear with what they are facing in that moment. I can't stress the fact that we need so much wisdom and being quick to speak is a sure mark of a lack of it, I know this all to well. "The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words" (Proverbs 10:19).
WHEN YOU MEET PEOPLE LIKE THIS, GIVE THEM GRACE
I am a verbal processor and that can get me into trouble. I can, in many cases, speak thoughts without them being fully developed, though can come off like I am speaking with authority and certainty. The scenario above and many others were huge catalysts in my life to bring some real self-awareness that it wasn't just what I said that was important, but also how I said it and why I was saying it. When you come to the realization of how powerful your words can be and the impact they have, good and bad, you become much more careful and sensitive to it all. If it wasn't for so many gracious people that came along, in love, who walked with me and showed me how my hasty speech was actually affecting people, I may have never changed, grown up or grown in wisdom. It takes time for people to grow out of bad habits, and to be a catalyst for change, we need patience, grace and love.
BUT I TELL YOU, LOVE YOUR ENEMIES AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU... MATTHEW 5:44
The problem is, much too often people react in turn the same way when they see people who are judgemental, legalistic, quick to speak and given to anger. They return hate with hate, anger with anger, judgementalism for judgementalism. I have spoken with many people who were once ignorant and arrogant and having their eyes opened, have swung completely to the other side and become open-minded and gracious. Well... except those who still see the world through a closed-minded lens of ignorance and arrogance. Is it possible we see the ugliness of our old selves, our old lives and react?
Maybe that isn't the case for you, but the same principle above applies here. Are you simply looking to make a point, or do you want to see real change? If we want to win over the person who is a steam roller, we need love. If they lack love, we defeat that with more love. Now, not all battles will be won, and in many cases, the person will not listen and you need to know when to give up and walk away. But sometimes all we need is to leave a stone in their shoe by shocking them with the power of radical love. Let us extend grace and love in the same way we would hope and want them to extend grace and love to those they disagree with. Not only because this is the tactic that works, but this is what we are called to. It is the mark of a follower of Christ.
BY THIS EVERYONE WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES, IF YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER. JOHN 13:35
So if you are dealing with someone like this, if you are walking with them and praying for them, don't give up on them. They need grace, love and above all... patience. They need that positive voice in their lives and someone to model and walk in grace and wisdom and even bring a challenge when it is needed. Lest we forget that we too are on a journey ourselves and it took time to get to where we are and we are still a work in progress.
If you are wanting to explore more this idea of what 'Healthy and Helpful Dialogue' is and looks like, check out this video on the topic and explore our video section as it is full of these kinds of conversations.
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