When in relational communication with others, we should seek to cultivate humility by understanding our inherent bias. (Jeremiah 17:9) None of us has perfect recall, especially when involved in conflict. (Proverbs 18:17) God requires that all facts be established by two and three witnesses; not a single account. (Deut. 19:5) And lastly, we should massage humility by being suspicious of ourselves, knowing that there are always three conversations – the one you heard, the one they heard and the one that actually took place. Rarely do they match.
To these I’d like to add another communicative caution. When seeking to understand we must avoid what I call the erroneous presumption of fruit inspection. Jesus said, “…every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18) Many believers take this passage and combine it with this Scripture, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (Matthew 12:34) The notion then is that when someone speaks we can somehow inspect the fruit and determine their heart motive. While in general this might be true; it is only true non-specifically. For example if someone is yelling and screaming at you, the mere loudness and intensity doesn’t say anything more than that they are, at that moment, not calm and gentle. However, you have no idea exactly where their heart is without first asking them what is wrong. They could be angry, fearful, annoyed, frustrated or excitedly announcing a problem; one would have to first ask questions to find out the true heart of the matter. Yet, routinely and habitually, we make instant assessments as to someone’s real motives and routinely and consistently we are wrong.
There can be many and complicated reasons for why someone is saying or doing what they are during an encounter, but we tend to pick the motive and presumption that fits our preconceived notions, bias and past experience. This is why it is so hard for people to converse cleanly. No one wants to take each event individually and of its own merit; we are baggage carriers by nature. To be sure, there is wisdom in recognizing past patterns and consistent failings; yet, there is also tremendous danger in judging the heart on the past or unconfirmed present.
It is not difficult to see then, that when you add bitterness and gossip to this corrupted conversational mix; things get ugly fast. Not only have you believed and processed something based on hearsay, but you are also spreading that to others and the infection spreads. This is a major challenge since true humility sees itself of no consequence and is not easily offended. Love is the coating by which all else flows and without which, we are mere hyper-jackals seeking only self-interests.
There’s an old saying out there – “No one cares what you know, till they know how much you care.” Through God-given humility we can take a real interest in one another, lay low in our hearts and seek to aid someone else’s spiritual well-being by applying these ideas and principles in our relationships. May God grant us these things in grand abundance.