The Pricklies . . .

3 Oct

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:  “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.  For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow:  but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.  Again, if two lie together, then they have heat:  but how can one be warm alone?  And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

I am going to address those inevitable prickly times between people.  We all like to think that the normal state of human relationships is smooth sailing, but the fact is that people are messy by nature.  We spend much time trying not to splatter our own personal mud on someone else as they try to avoid splattering us .  Yet it is better for two to walk along together than for one to walk alone because, if two people fall, they both have someone to help get them on their feet again.

When there is a breakdown in communication, the first thing we can expect is for the mud to come flying.  “All Republicans are heartless.”  “All Democrats want their hand in my pocket.”  “All pastors are in the profession just to see if they can build a mega-church.”  Generalizations, generalizations, generalizations.  They keep us from seeing the human being right in front of us.  And they keep that human being from seeing us.

Humility goes a long way.  But Satan knows that so he usually helps orchestrate quarrels so they get to the point of no return sooner, rather than later.  And our human nature figures into that equation.  Greatly figures into that equation.

Typically, a discussion might involve a delicate area one person is trying to point out to another.  Let’s just say that person is my boss and has the right to point that area out to me (let’s use the phrase “‘constructive criticism”).  The approach might be gracious or it might not, but human beings tend to get defensive in any case.

Problem is, if I disagree with the first thing said, I am probably going to start myself on a progression in which I disagree with everything that is said.  What if the first thing said is truly not valid (somebody told my boss something about me that wasn’t true), but something later in the conversation really is valid?  Will I be so defensive by then that I will miss the fact that that part is actually something I should act on?

I think as human beings, we actually do go so far as to defend ourselves against everything in a counseling session, even the parts we should accept as valid, constructive criticism.  We discredit the message by imagining it is a personal attack and by discrediting the messenger.

Part of that may be a fear that, if we accept any criticism whatsoever from our boss, he may start heaping up a whole pile of criticisms in which he negates every single good thing about us and he may end up firing us at the end of that process.

Some of us may have had parents or teachers who did something along those lines to us in childhood and we have never, ever learned to let go of that memory and to realize that we can receive valid criticism from others, especially our bosses, without the world as we know it ending.

In general, people don’t get fired after the first counseling session, nor even the second one.  They get fired after a series of sessions in which they have refused to take on any criticism whatsoever from their boss.  Their attitude comes across as “I am already perfect.  Take me or leave me.”  Nobody intends to say that to their boss, of course, but when they will not ever listen to the tiniest shred of constructive criticism and when they refuse to change, that is the ultimate message they deliver.

I don’t remember where I heard it first, but I love the statement “Don’t defend the indefensible.”  I have used it before, even mid-sentence when I am being defensive about something and the Holy Spirit convicts me that I am wrong and just need to lay it all down, right then and there.  It is immensely freeing to say, “You know what?  You’re right and I am wrong.  How do we fix that?”

There are so many ways human relationships can get cloudy.  Receiving criticism, valid or not, is only one of those areas.  But it is a big one.  And the ability to receive and act on constructive criticism can help us to remain in fellowship with others so that we don’t walk, and fall, all alone.  God bless!

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