Monday, September 7, 2009

A Kind Answer Turns Away Wrath

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 1.15
They get it right every once and a while, those seers, wise men and women. I was reacquainted with this principle from Proverbs, reading an apparently secular self-help book called Verbal Judo which had several strikingly insightful--and surprisingly spiritual!--points about gentle persuasion (largely meaning verbal conflict resolution) (see it at amazon). Here are the ones that seemed most central:
  1. The first significant insight: In a conflict, don't react to the words being said instead be present to (or empathize with) the meaning or feeling behind what's being said.
  2. But in able to be able to do this: Empty the self and remove the ego.
Both of these seem to be contemplative spiritual principles to me. Most often, they are easier said than done, of course.

One time, however, I remember enacting the "kind answer" principle smoothly while working as a cashier at a drive through window of a fast food restaurant. The food was in fact not usually fast, and often customers would arrive at my window angry about having waited so long between ordering and getting their food. One man in particular I remember speaking kindly to and his attitude drastically changing, and so I thought of the above Proverb. But I mention this instance now to point out how easy it was to answer kindly; it was easy because I had no bit of ego at stake. It wasn't me who took too long cooking his food! Unhappily, most instance when wrath comes our way, our egos are very much more involved.

If there is wrath aimed at us to be turned away, either we are at fault and so we're probably not going to simply stop our problem-making or we're not at fault and so we are indignant about the wrath or, and this is probably most often the case, we are "a little" at fault, but not enough (it seems in our mind at the time) to justify the wrath and so we are both indignant and not simply going to stop our problem making. Or something like that. Whether my analysis here is accurate, it seems plain enough that usually our egos are involved. But nonetheless, being kind beyond the question of our ego is what is essential. Indeed, this point seems closely related to Rickey's recent post on kindness. It seemed to me that these points were very practical ways of implementing our core spiritual values in our daily lives, which include, at least for me, plenty enough conflict.

Dear God, let us embody this. Amen.


RC said...

Paul, very insightful posting, very important for living out contemplative spirituality. We have to be free of the ego, have to transcend the ego. Too often we are ego-bound, ego-centered, and we react out of the ego. I want to grow in this freedom; I'm committed to interactiing this way. But as you said, it's hard. It's not natural; it's supernatural. My prayer is that God will help me to grow in the grace of this way of relating!

Daniel said...

Paul, thank you for this practical reminder. As you've pointed out, these interactions are where we live out our contemplative journey, and intentionality is key.

living stones said...

Paul,thanks for sharing this proverb. My prayer is to become more present, more genuine,and more gentle.
And thanks too for the icon photo;it's great! Blessings--Anna

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