It seems to me that people come to blogs looking for one of three things: answers, inspiration, or solidarity.
I have my moments for providing answers–at least, as they have revealed themselves in my life–and inspiration. But the truth is that I often wrestle with questions that have no easy answers. This is my place to think through my fingers and figure things out…and sometimes to conclude that there’s no solution at all, only the need for awareness.
I decided it’s time to codify that into a formal series: “No Easy Answers.” Not something regular, but at least something recognizable.
It begins with a half-remembered quote heard at a convention last summer. It went something like: “Friendship is the birthplace of conversion.” (Or was it the catalyst, or the crucible, or the garden of conversion?)
When I heard that quote, my heart whispered, Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Because I have a friend who calls me to be better than I am now, who meets my rants with a challenge to step back and look through things from someone else’s point of view–someone whose love for me, in short, allows her to speak the truth to me, and helps me bend toward others and become a better human being.
This is true within my marriage, too. Love not only allows us to speak truth to each other; it compels us to do so–to lead each other along a path to betterment. Put another way, speaking the truth is how we bring each other closer to God.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately, because if this is love, then it speaks to all relationships that we approach out of love–which is all of them. English really only has one word for “love,” and we shy away from using it outside of the romantic or family context, but the truth is we care about people because we are human and we are built to be in relationship. That is love.
Given that, the ability to speak truth is an ideal we should strive for in all our relationships: parent, child, friend, colleague, sibling, cousin.
But that’s where the hard part comes in. Because not all our relationships are strong enough to handle the speaking of truth. Sometimes love is twisted. Sometimes love is damaged by repeated instances of another person lashing out from their own pain. Love is still there, but the connection lines are not solid, and if we speak truth through those damaged lines, conversion gets twisted into something much less healthy.
In those instances, when we see someone we care about doing, saying, or holding attitudes that we can see are damaging to their emotional or physical or relational health, we have a choice to make: how to respond.
But there are no good options.
Option one is to speak the truth as gently as possible. But when relationships are damaged, this will only cause further division.
Option two is to ignore the elephant in the room–just not to address it–in an attempt to avoid sounding judgmental. But affirmation is built into human interaction, and the withholding of affirmation speaks volumes on its own. The person on the other end always knows he or she is being judged, whether you say it or not, so this, too, widens the divide.
Option three is to bury your own integrity and shower them with insincere affirmation. And I think we can all see what’s wrong with that one.
Christian has been reading Dave Ramsey’s book on leadership, where he talks about the root relationship between the words integer, integral, and integrity. It had never occurred to me until Christian read a paragraph to me, that these three words were all related to wholeness. Integrity is when everything you are is everything you are, and you don’t set some of it aside in different circles, because you can’t. This is what I have been trying to put words to for quite a while, my hope and my goal for passing the faith on to my children: that it becomes so integral to who they are that they can never fall away, because it would mean abandoning their very identity. And yet at the same time, it is not a facade polished up and worn like a jewel that you have to show off, but instead it’s something so integral that you don’t really have to talk about it all that much for people to know it’s there.
A beautiful vision for my children, but it does create this impossible situation when relationships are not strong enough. Because the reality is I have to make a bad choice between looking (and maybe being) self-righteous and failing to be true to who I am and what I believe.
And I think that everyone has faced situations like this. Which is why I bring it up. (There’s that “solidarity” piece.) We’d like to think there really are solutions to every problem we face, but the reality is, this one doesn’t have one. There are no good solutions. Only picking the one that seems the least damaging at any given time.
No easy answer.
What I’ve learnt in life is, the difficult the question, the simple the answer. I tend to make the question extremely difficult so that I don’t have to face the obvious truth. 😐
So the question is: do easy questions necessarily evade easy answers?
I think not. The answers are always simple. Mostly it comes down to yes or no. But the process if arriving at the right answer is what is excruciating. I think we as humans tend to jack up the complexity of the questions so that we don’t have to arrive at the answer which we are not ready to accept.
In this case, the answer I came up with was that sometimes no matter what you do, it’s going to be the wrong thing. Very simple. But not.
On Mon, May 11, 2015 at 11:54 AM, Kathleen M. Basi wrote:
Right or wrong depends on perception. This is the reason the whole economy runs. The heart always wants what is not. The seeds of right or wrong are sown right here. But only time will tell.
Many years ago a columnist for the Des Moines Register, Harlan Miller, often ended his columns with this phrase, “There is no solution. Seek it lovingly.” Made no sense at all to me as a teenager but as an “elder” it makes perfect sense.
So many things make no sense in the “everything is black and white” years. 🙂
On Mon, May 11, 2015 at 11:32 AM, Kathleen M. Basi wrote:
Just as important as cultivating the ability to speak the truth is cultivating the ability to hear the truth.
I agree that its easier to speak truth when the relationship is strong, but I think really what that means is, speaking the truth is less scary because we are more comfortable that the other person will be willing to hear and listen to the truth. So it’s a two-sided coin. If someone is not willing to be open and listen to the truth, then no matter how delicately and sensitively you manage to speak truth, it may not go well.
Something which I attempt to do in theory, but which I struggle with doing in practice, is to ask myself “What do I hope to accomplish by saying this thing, and how likely is it to achieve that goal?”
It’s not usually hard to answer those questions honestly in the privacy of my own mind. However, it is MUCH more difficult to act in the manner that the answers would suggest I should, because my nature is such that I feel passionately about lots of things, and I feel a physical urge to speak when I’m impassioned.
My point though is that I think those two questions apply to the question of when to speak the truth. Are you speaking the truth to help the other person, or for some other reason? And is the person in a mindset where they will be able to hear and listen to your truth – i.e. what will you accomplish by speaking?
If you are unlikely to achieve a good purpose, then I think silence may be justified. This may affect how things sound, too. If one is speaking more because one is compelled to speak what one believes, then a comment may be more likely to sound self-righteous. If you are speaking because you genuinely believe what you are saying will help the other person, then your true good intentions are more likely to shine through (though not always).
Methinks I hear “truth spoken in love” in that comment. 🙂 You bring up two important points, both of which I thought of in the course of writing but which really deserve their own post–that the other person has to be willing to hear, and that you have to be aware of your own motivations. Our family has a built-in “opinion” switch, I think, in which we think if we think something everyone else needs to know it. We can all get insufferable. And there’s no doubt that insufferable-ness is never going to be effective, *especially* when we’re talking to each other!!!
🙂 Yes, agreed. And I guess the last point is being open to the possibility that what we think is truth is not, in fact, the truth, because of our own flawed understanding – something all of us in this family also have trouble with!
On Tue, May 12, 2015 at 9:40 AM, Kathleen M. Basi wrote: