It really doesn’t matter with whom I am interacting or in what context I find myself, there are three pieces of advice that constantly swirl around my mind as I struggle to be a helpful contributor to society. Of course I falter more than I succeed, but I do think over the year, these words of wisdom have help me to develop a better mental filter, to increased my use of the [BACKSPACE] key, and to commit to a life of graciousness.
Not sure if these will work for you, but feel free to liberate as needed.
Every interaction either builds up or tears down.
Spoken to me by Frank Poole in the mid-nineties when I was pastoring my first church, he challenged me to think bigger about my role as pastor. He pushed me to understand that I could help lead the church towards having healthy relationships or I could drive it towards toxic fragmentation. He was not saying that I should compromise my morals for the sake of unity, but that the level of care with which I used my words, actions, and authority was not inconsequential. I am not sure how well I did, but I do know that choosing when to build up and when to down is a choice that must be weighed with care.
I think this is true for anyone and anytime. We as a society are sometimes too casual with our words and often unknowingly break down trust and/or miss out on opportunities to build up community. This does not mean that every interaction has to be deeply personal or philosophically intense, in fact some of the most effective interactions are playful [example], but what it does mean that we should at least pause for a second to ask the question, “Will this build up or tear down?”
Everyone has a mother.
Of course this comes from MY mother.
My mom would drop this nugget on me whenever I would talk smack about someone be it an athlete *cough* *A-Rod* *cough* or a kid at my school. In her not so subtle way, she was reminding me that no matter how much I may really really really not like someone – we don’t use hate in our family – he or she also was a created child of God and was loved by another person.
Juiced, jerk, or asshatt — they too were created and loved.
Funny thing is, while I do find this helpful when arguing political opinions, I find myself needing this reminder most when those near me are bugging the crap out of me. I can easily distance myself from people with whom I have little interaction, but when those close to me get under my skin, I must be doubly aware of the fact that they too are created beings – beings who are created, loved and deserve my compassion, understanding, and respect.
And yes, I certainly hope this is reciprocated when I too am being an asshat.
Angel Magdael was an elder in my home church and, while she died years ago, is one of those people whose name is still spoken with reverence. If the Presbyterians had saints, she would be admitted on the first ballot — and she would also be mortified that we made her a saint. Angel didn’t earn this respect because of any spectacular newsworthy achievement, but because she was kind and assumed goodness in everyone. Even today, when Angel’s name comes into the conversation it’s usually because you did something that she would be proud of — or you get the “What would Auntie Angel think?” look of disappointment.
I get knocked sometimes for too easily giving people the benefit of the doubt. I, in no way think this is naiveté, foolishness, or irresponsibility, but quite the opposite — assuming goodness shoves a pie in the face of a world that is driven by fear and the idea that the first reaction the person in front of you should be one of suspicion. What would happen if we chose to, even for a moment, to assume, see, and believe in the goodness in the other before jumping to fear and suspicion? I think if we did take a moment to try, St. Angel would be proud.
I am not really sure what brought his post on other than I know that I have struggled as of late to consistently live out these words of wisdom — and I figure I am not the only one. I hope they are helpful to you.
Thanks for reading and, if you feel so inclined, I would love to know the words of advice and nuggets of wisdom that guide your own life.