Do Not Fix Others as You Would Not Want to be Fixed

The internet, one might think, was invented as a place for angry, excessively confident people to try to fix others.

But I think Glennon Melton has it right when she offers this contemporary parable about fixing:

“Imagine that you have a new friend that you just love, and she’s coming to your house, and you finally liberate yourself enough to skip the panic-clean before she arrives. You decide that you trust her enough to walk in and see your messy house and you just KNOW that she will GET IT. She will LOVE that you just Let It Be for her. But she walks in and instead of flopping down on the laundry covered couch, she starts cleaning up the mess. Your mess is making her too uncomfortable. She starts to FIX IT instead of appreciating your mess as a trust offering. How do you feel about that?”

A lot of communication SNAFU’s can be avoided if we commit to this simple maxim: do not fix others as you would not want to be fixed.

I felt afresh the importance of this maxim as I was working on my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking. A primary purpose of the book is to bring people together for important conversations about God, the Bible, meaning, purpose, hope, grace, justice, and living generously.

As I wrote, I kept imagining a living room or restaurant table full of friends of mine – some of them conservative, some liberal, some pious, some skeptical, some obsessively talkative, some compulsively shy, some Christian, some not. I would imagine reading a chapter aloud and then inviting conversation.

It was all too easy to envision nasty arguments breaking out – if not full-scale inquisitions, because many of my friends are passionately different from one another.

That’s why I put together five guidelines for communication – central to which is Glennon’s anti-fixing wisdom:

PARTICIPATION: Our goal is for all to share and all to learn, so all should feel encouraged but not pressured to participate. Before and after you have made a contribution, welcome others to contribute by listening from the heart with uncommon interest and kindness. In so doing, you will “listen one another into free speech.” Avoid dominating, and gently seek to draw out those who may be less confident than you.

HONOR: We honor one another for having the courage to share honestly and from the heart. It is important to freely express your own views without insulting the views of others. Advising, silencing, fixing, upstaging, correcting, or interrupting others often leaves them feeling dishonored, so these responses are not appropriate among the learners in this circle. Often, using “I” language helps in this regard—for example, “I see that differently” instead of “You are wrong.” Trust that a safe, honoring environment will make space for their “inner teacher,” God’s Spirit, to guide others better than you can.

SILENCE: Silence is an important part of every good conversation. Don’t rush to fill silence. Expect that important insights will arise through silence. Often, right after a silence has become a little uncomfortable, it becomes generative and holy.

UNDERSTANDING: Each question or prompt is designed to promote something more important than agreement or argument: understanding—of ourselves and one another. So see differing views as a gift and an opportunity for greater understanding, not argument. Our full acceptance of one another does not infer full agreement with every opinion that is expressed. Assured of mutual honor, in the presence of differing views, we will all experience greater understanding.

BREVITY: It’s important to feel free to think out loud and speak at some length at times. But in general, err on the side of being too brief and having people ask to hear more, rather than on the side of taking more than your share of the group’s time.

Of course, just noting these five guidelines creates the possibility that some of us will become “brevity police” or “honor assessment officers,” using these guidelines to fix errant participants. But if we focus instead on our own behavior, and if we can agree upon these or similar guidelines for learning circles in which we participate – online or off, I think we can model for people a better way of interacting.

And when we mess up, as we all do sometimes, that’s OK too. Even our mess-ups can be, as Glennon says, trust offerings.

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  • shibui

    These guidelines are a near-exact parallel to the guidelines for Bible Workbench study groups! And they have been proven as the keys such a group holds to deeper understanding as they gather around a reading from the lectionary. Anyone who has done Bible Workbench much will enthusiastically second your urgings, Brian. Beth Resler Walters, MPBC, Charlotte

  • This was very convicting, thank you Brian.

  • Kelly Mittelmeier

    just what I needed to hear! thank you for writing this Brian!

  • Steve Knudsen

    I might go and buy this book!

  • My biggest obstacle to good communication (along the lines of Brian’s points) is the way my brain stem reacts to certain ideas. My body actually feels threatened and prepares for a deathmatch. I find that it helps to persistently talk myself down from those anxious-aroused states — reminding myself that my friend is good/sane/intelligent (not evil/crazy/stupid), that my friend loves me, that we both want good things for ourselves and our families and our world, etc. Over time, those patterns of thought are becoming more habitual.

  • RonSimkins

    As my wonderful wife so often says: “So simple to say; so difficult to live.” Thanks for the helpful post.

  • JenellYB

    Definitely some things here I admit I need to work on, and that from two different directions. Both doing it to others, but also to better handle others doing it to me. Reading this, I realizes a good bit of my doing it to others arises out of some defensiveness from having others do it to me. I do have some relationships in trouble, on shaky ground, for there seems to be a good it of it going on back and forth between us.

  • fcb3

    I really enjoyed this post and I look forward to reading it; it reminds me of a book by Isaac Watts titled “The Improvement of the Mind.” It is a book of instruction on thinking and speaking, and he exhaustively covers the art of conversation. His book on Logic was used in Princeton as a text book for 100 years. I couldn’t recommend “The Improvement of the Mind” more highly; his insights are nothing less than brilliant.

  • Jim Hawkins

    I see my previous post was removed. A gentle exchange of ideas is welcomed as long as they agree with Brian’s, I guess.