Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Speaking up, offending and being offended, truth telling, and when to keep quiet.

I don't know why this is, but we seem to offend and hurt others and be offended and hurt by others on a fairly regular basis.  It seems to be part of the human condition and I've found myself wondering about this as I've experienced both this past week.  More, I've found myself wondering why we don't talk about it more openly.

This last week I've become more aware of a couple people who have "distanced" themselves, for lack of a better term. I can only assume that something I said or did has offended them or hurt them. Maybe there is another reason. Perhaps they are busy with other things, perhaps something has happened in their personal lives that makes this distance more necessary.  All of that could be possible. But given their demeanor and changed stance, I don't think that's what it is. Unfortunately, neither of them have told me what it is, so I am left in the dark.

By the same token, I've found myself personally hurt by a couple folk.  Did they mean to hurt me?  In one case, possibly; but in the other, I'm quite certain they did not. And I, too, have failed to say anything.  I tell myself I'm being oversensitive and therefore just need to deal with it.  I tell myself it's pointless to say anything because they wouldn't hear it or understand it anyway but would just be offended and they would step away. But instead, I end up putting distance there.  I, too, choose to step back rather than be seen as too "intense" or overly excitable.  I choose the position of "power", being the one to distance rather than being the one to speak my truth and risk being hurt by the other person stepping away.

My church received an annonymous nasty note stuck into our door over the week I was gone in response to the rainbow flag we fly in front of our property.  It contained the usual comment of people who actually haven't read anything Jesus said. It said that God hates certain people and that if we don't hate those people too, then God hates us and will send us to hell. The point, though, is that it was annonymous. So I guess there are people who do speak up when they are hurt or offended.  But they choose to do it annonymously.

I have seen two posts on facebook in the last couple weeks that were both expressing the decision to not speak up.  In one a person was very angry at an injustice but chose not to speak.  The other was a meme that basically said that it is wisdom to walk away when someone has a stupid opinion rather than confronting it.

I have found myself reflecting on all of these situations.  And I have come to the conclusion that we all have one thing in common.  And that is a lack of courage.  Why is it so hard to claim our position, to state our feelings, our opinions, directly, openly, honestly, and in ways that do not do further damage and do not injure the other with name-calling, accusations, and demeaning words but instead just say, "Ouch. That hurts. And here is why." or with "I really disagree with that and here is why."? It feels incredibly risky to just own our feelings and our own opinions.  It feels vulnerable to choose to be honest about our hurt or our thoughts and risk the other person being mean, disagreeing, or walking away from us.  It feels more powerful to be angry and silent, or to be in control as we choose to step back rather than say what we think.  I get that. I get it again and again because I, too, lack the courage in the face of hurt or disagreement sometimes to just say, "I disagree" or "that hurts."  I'm not good on my feet, so when someone is angry at me and expresses that in mean words, I often can't think of the best thing to say.  I usually can only think of the best response hours or days later.  So instead I choose silence.  I choose to let the relationship be damaged rather than to take the risk of being vulnerable and admitting I am hurt or that I disagree.

I've been telling others to speak their truth.  From the position of being the one who has been walked away from, I keep telling others to speak rather than stay silent. "Don't give up on people like me!" I plead. "Some of us are trying and we need your help to be the people we want to be!  Please don't see me as beyond redemption, as beyond learning, as beyond understanding.  Give me a chance to hear, to learn, and to grow.  Tell me when I have hurt you so I can understand. Tell me when you disagree so I can hear a new perspective. Don't walk away, but give our relationship a real chance by speaking, by talking, by taking the risk of telling me what may be uncomfortable for both of us. And then stay with me and don't quit 'us'. Please."

I say it.  I mean it.  But I struggle to practice it. And I have to own that. It is hard to speak our truth to people who don't listen or who seem unable to understand. It is hard to take the risk of admitting when we are hurting. It is hard to choose to be vulnerable.

So I write this for myself and to myself once again: I believe with all my heart that loving, truly loving, is hard. It is hard. And we are called to keep doing it, again and again, and again and again. Loving our enemies, loving our friends, loving all those around us means taking risks.  It is risky.  It is scary. And it involves being real, speaking the truth, and being vulnerable.

I will say what I have said before: I am beyond grateful to those people who have been brave with me, who took the time to speak their truth to me, to tell me when I messed up, to tell me when I hurt them, to tell me that they disagree. I've learned and grown only because people took chances and risks and were willing to take the time to talk without assuming I could never learn or grow. So I pray for the courage to be the one to do the same and to speak. And I pray for the wisdom to see that if they don't hear me in this moment that that is okay.  They may hear it down the road.  They may never hear it.  They may walk away, or they may even become angry.  But that is not my responsibility.  What they do with what they are given is up to them.  The only thing that is my responsibility is to speak, to be fully present, fully honest, fully open - to give what I have been gifted to pass on.  That is all I am called to do.  God, grant me the courage to do it.