Explanations, Not Excuses
I’ve spent the last thirty years or so dealing with people in a variety of pastoral and educational settings. One of the things that I’ve found to be true is that there’s ALWAYS a reason for the way people are.
People can be wonderful, and I’ve worked with many such people over these years. 96% of the people I’ve worked with have been incredibly generous and excellent.
But I’ve also worked with a few people who were harsh, abrasive, egotistical, manipulative, lethally passive-aggressive, dishonest, selfish, narcissistic, etc., and at least one out-and-out sociopath.
And what I’ve found is, no matter how awful a person’s behavior is, there’s a reason for what they do.
1. I’m not saying that you have to accept bad behavior. I’m not saying having a difficult childhood lets someone off the hook for being a bastard. The title says it: “Explanations, Not Excuses.” Rebuke, correct, etc., if you have to (and if it’s your place), but remember that there’s a reason for the offending behavior or attitude, and that the person in question often isn’t conscious of why they’re doing what they do. (‘Cuz if they thought it through, they’d agree with you. Of course.)
2. This fact is important for understanding how to work with people. We make our greatest contributions to the Kingdom of God by working with other people. And when you work with other people, you’re going to encounter people who are difficult to work with.
When you encounter resistance, you have several options for how you respond. You can try to bull your way through. You can trade quid pro quo. You can resort to bribery. You can try to manipulate and sweet talk and seduce. All of these are legitimate, at least in most of their guises.
When you’re in such a situation, wouldn’t it be nice to know that there’s a reason that this otherwise intelligent person doesn’t like your idea, or is refusing to go with the flow?
- Wouldn’t it be nice to know that he is resistant to making this particular change because it makes him feel insecure,
- … or he’s afraid it’s going to offend someone whose approval he desperately wants,
- … or he feels that too many changes are being made at the last minute and he’s been burned in similar situations?
- Or that the only reason person A is agreeing with you is because she doesn’t like person B, who disagrees with you?
And even when you have NO CLUE why someone is the way they are, taking just a moment to remind yourself that there IS a reason (however obscure, illogical, etc.) will help you respond a little more graciously than you might otherwise.
I think that’s what Paul meant when he said, “Bear with one another.” (Col 3.13) “Bearing with” = putting up with someone, treating them like they have value and worth and the odd brain in their heads even when they disagree with you.
Actually, Paul doesn’t stop there. He says, “Bear with one another, … forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” We all need forgiveness far more often than we care to admit. And we all need people to bear with us, too. Because, well … we aren’t always as logical and altruistic and transparent as we’d like to be, either. At least, I’m not.
There’s a reason I am the way I am–even when I’m an idiot, even when I’m wrong. And there’s a reason YOU’RE the way YOU are, too. (Not that I’d ever tell you you were being an idiot.)
3. This post is important for the “Airing of Grievances” posts that are on the way. It’s foundational for the way I want to approach disagreements on substantive issues.