WRITTEN BY SCOTT HENDRICKSON
Our current culture has made it hard to speak your opinion, let alone truth. If you challenge someone’s life conclusions, it is believed you run a great risk of offending, and therefore not being supportive, let alone loving. Various media stories, suggest enough of a threat to the intentioned bold opine-er, that silence actually appears golden.
The risks of accusation, marginalization, moreover isolation are powerful devices of censure. These devices touch all of the most basic human identity needs: to be trusted, to be significant and to have a stable source of community—connection. It seemingly behooves all of us to remain quiet or risk annihilation.
I suggest the exact opposite is more the case. To be silent with a loved one who is about to make major decisions in reality makes you not a trusted advisor, marginalizes yourself and you will likely feel more lonely than connected.
I don’t intend to be judgmental here. Many, many times, I chose silence over speaking AND just as many times—perhaps more, I used a device (defensiveness) to keep someone from truth telling to me. One of my all time favorite pastors (and friend) provided a brave model to me when he literally invited me to be free to challenge his thinking or his plans. Perhaps he trusted each of us sitting around that table or he was naive. I prefer to believe the former.
You could be stymied by the obvious risks to confronting a loved one because each of those risks are real. I don’t minimize them at all, but look at the greater risks. If you are struggling about whether to speak honestly with someone, here are what I hope will be guidelines to help you with your courage:
- Always begin with forthrightness. You can say something in a calm but direct manner which will help reduce some of your inner intensity before it can escalate into rage or desperation.
- Be open about being wrong or not seeing it clearly yourself—even if you FEEL one hundred percent convinced. No one is without distortions and usually we are unaware of these in our own thinking. You have them, I have them.
- Remain hesitant. To speak carefully, leaving space for new insight from your loved one is wise. Just don’t give up your position too easily.
- Avoid arguing. Debates rarely lead to more openness. There is something really productive about allowing for germination. This requires patience however.
- Two verses from one of my favorite chapters in the Bible (Romans 12) give excellent advice here: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor each other above yourselves.” If this is your highest value when confronting or challenging anyone, your relationship can weather the conflict—almost always!
- Check the time. There are a couple of things to seriously consider regarding time.
- 1) What happens to your anger or your anxiety with what you want to say or confront? If this feeling escalates while you wait for the right time to confront or speak to your friend, loved one, neighbor or other, you might not want to delay until it is too intense (like rage or panic). If your intensity is too intense right now, consider waiting just long enough for the intensity to lessen in order to prevent rage or panic. Either way, to know how you operate here can be great inner feedback to help you with the best time to confront. Avoidance is a poor option for you however.
- 2) There are always times of the day when it is counterproductive to start a fight or just have a hard conversation. Later in the evening is usually not the best nor is just before an important event.
- Finally, be courageous! Don’t let anxiousness be the only feeling that guides you. Press into your convictions. Feel your heart race and your breath leave you all too quickly. This is a healthy signal your heart is made of flesh, not stone. This will be the moment your fear turns to love in subtle but profound ways.