I’m not great at saying things directly. I tend to sugarcoat, to look for a way to make nice, to nudge the other party in a particular direction rather than issuing a command or even a request. When I feel hurt, I have a hard time saying so; instead I show it in ways that I will grant are less than mature and generally not effective. This happens because I want people to like me, and I want them to think of me as nice. I’ll step up and be straightforward if I need to do it to protect someone, or something, other than myself, but I find it harder to do when I feel my reputation or my work is at stake.
I think of this as a sort of righteous niceness.
I know I need to work on this, that it is a flawed way of moving in the world, but I still find it very hard since it goes against not only my personality type but also my childhood training. This doesn’t mean I let go of the hurtful things people say or do; in fact it’s the opposite. I will spend a long time anticipating the next blow, to the point where I sometimes see the insult or the injury in something that was never meant that way, or I work off the feelings by telling someone else what happened instead of dealing directly with the problem.
“How terrible for you Pharisees! You give a tenth of your mint, rue, and garden herbs of all kinds, while neglecting justice and love for God. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.
“How terrible for you Pharisees! You love the most prominent seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
“How terrible for you! You are like unmarked graves, and people walk on them without recognizing it.”
One of the legal experts responded, “Teacher, when you say these things, you are insulting us too.”
Jesus said, “How terrible for you legal experts too! You load people down with impossible burdens and you refuse to lift a single finger to help them. (Luke 11:42-46, CEB)
There’s more, on both sides of this, as Jesus speaks frankly with those who see themselves and their code of behavior as righteous. I don’t write this off as being only about Jews or even first century religious leaders. We’re all prone to this, with whatever code is ours.
I have a fair number of rules about human interactions that are reasonable, and ethical standards worthy of upholding, but I also have a few at least that protect my way of moving in the world without allowing *me* the opportunity to tell the truth I find hard to speak. That truth gets stuck because I am afraid of rejection, afraid that others will team up against me, afraid that everyone else is right and I am bad at my job, or worse, my life. This may be in part because I lead with feelings – “when you do this, I feel” – and so many people in my life have put that back on me saying they can’t make me feel anything, that my feelings are my problem.
In a book about the Enneagram, I read recently that people like me (2s) can’t get past this without really examining how they operate; we need to develop “insight into our own brokenness and sinning…”* instead of looking for someone else to blame for whatever has gone wrong.
As much as I want to line up with Jesus in this passage, I can see myself on the side of the Pharisees and legal experts, with a highly developed code of behavior that doesn’t allow for much grace or mercy. It keeps me “safe” from others by dint of my righteousness but leaves me fearful, always, of losing everything.
What would it be like to say to someone, “The way you handled that hurt me,” or even, “I wonder why you chose to do that in the way you did?” Could it lead to a real conversation, instead of the interior maelstrom I allow by not being frank?
Holy One, it’s possible I am not as nice as I want to be and only a fraction as righteous. To protect myself, I close off deeper mutual understanding. What would it be like to be more straightforward? I wonder. Amen.
I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.
*From “The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective,” by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert