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.
Relationships are the hardest thing we ever do in this life, that’s why we do our best to both control and avoid them. If we could live alone, for the most part, we would have an easy go of it, but instead we have others to deal with for they surround us constantly. As the great Dr. Seuss may have put it in his famous lyrical rhythm – People here, people there, people with me every where. People high, people low, people every where I go.
And so we find that mastering good communication skills as community and family members is as essential as a carpenter learning to master his hammer and saw. Not being able to utilize right and effective relationship tools invariably leads to much trouble. This week I’d like to bring a few of these tools to you that are tremendously helpful. They are based upon a few biblical principles and involve the way in which we handle conflict.
Many of us pride ourselves on what we think is an almost perfect recall. When it comes to what someone has said to us and what we believe they have said, we find that most of us have no problem relying upon our own internal witness. However, this is quite dangerous for we are never neutral and unbiased; there is always the stain of past history on our hearts distorting even if only so slightly our perception of what we hear. The Old Testament recognizes this truth when it says, “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17) And to make matters worse the prophet Jeremiah has this insight –“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) We should always be suspicious of ourselves particularly when we are in conflict.
So the first principle for us to learn and cultivate is an active humility. We must learn to accept that we are fallible listeners and consequently must be slow to judge and learn to discern rightly before we jump into accusation and assertions. As Christ Himself said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
We should first seek clarification and understanding through probing questions and multiple witnesses before setting out stakes firmly in unmovable ground. Back again to antiquity the Lord spoke through Moses saying, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” (Deut. 19:15)
If we combine these truths regarding humility along with other admonitions of thinking of others more highly than ourselves (Phil. 2:4) and not assuming that we know someone else’s motives; we have started well. Hearing correctly is the first step and seeking to understand rather than merely reacting to what we think we heard is a godly tool.
Next post we’ll go further into probing good and right communication during conflicts.