March 28, 2017

Living in the Middle

There’s no denying that the tenor of most social interaction in our culture is currently quite ugly and mean. Some use social media as an excuse to rant and rage “anonymously.” Some forget that typed out words represent only a third of another’s communication - i.e., providing words but no facial expressions or tone of voice – and choose to jump to conclusions and become “offended.” And far too often that “virtual angst” bleeds out into our real-life interactions as well.

It’s all enough to make us want to throw up our hands in defeat, and decide it’d be better to simply avoid any hint of possible confrontation anywhere. After all, if we don’t share our thoughts, we cannot cross a line into offense. If we don’t say a thing, we can’t possibly bother anyone else. And since we want our kids to be “good,” we teach them the old adage: “Silence is a virtue.”

But when we do that, we’re dead wrong.

Being aggressive and obnoxious is obviously inappropriate. It’s a way to forsake real relationship – a cop-out. And it physically and emotionally damages the aggressor just as much as it does his targets. But being a doormat does all of that, too.

If we purpose to be “nice” – i.e., not speaking up, working overtime to avoid any sort of potential disagreement – we cannot possibly be authentic in relationship with others. Instead, we build an invisible wall of self-protection that keeps people at a distance. Then we suffer from loneliness and isolation. And we stuff negative feelings down inside ourselves when we don’t express them, making ourselves emotionally and even physically sick. Being “nice” is a cop-out, too. Do we really want that for our kids?

The solution – for our children and for ourselves – is in the middle of the extremes. It’s the harder path, but it’s the right one.

The Bible tells us to “be angry, and sin not” (Ephesians 4.26), and it implores us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4.15). Likewise, Jesus described a process by which we can effectively work through life’s unavoidable interpersonal conflicts (Matthew 18.15-16). So, just as we should model for and teach our kids that aggression is wrong, we must show and tell them that playing doormat is similarly wrong. And we must, instead, be examples of and provide instruction in how to live in the balance between grace and truth (John 1.17).

A bully is not good. However, a child who feels he must take abuse will not want to be good. Either she’ll eventually whither up emotionally and want to die – in fact, she may attempt suicide – or she’ll stuff down pathological emotions from years of being “nice” until they cannot help but explode in some way, causing great damage to many. On the other hand, a child who is taught healthy ways to manage conflict will learn the right balance and he’ll choose to be truly good as a result.
Photo Credit: Patrick

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