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.