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Building Better Relationships — Week 5 Reflections, Part 1

August 18, 2006

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This week’s topic in our Bible study was “Handling Confrontation.” Skimming through, I was surprised to see that much of the material in this chapter dealt with gossip, because honestly, I didn’t think that gossip had anything to do with confrontation. Oh, how wrong I was!

The author writes:

“Gather together two or three people in the choir room, home or office and it won’t be long before someone disappoints, angers, hurts or frustrates someone else. We talk to others about people who have displeased us. We gossip. Gossip, in turn, sows seeds of distrust and gives us negative attitudes toward those whom Christ has called us to love.”

Our overarching problem is an inability to handle confrontation. We avoid talking with the one we have displeased or the one who has displeased us. If we refuse to talk about a problem with the person(s) involved, we most often end up gossiping. (emphasis mine)

Wow. I had to stop and let that really sink in after I read it. I don’t know if I would have ever made that connection, but I do believe she is really hitting the nail on the head. I have seen this happen from every angle: I’ve gossiped, I’ve been gossiped about, and I’ve had people try to gossip with me about a third party. Without exception, all of it could have been avoided if the offended party had calmly confronted the person they were upset with. Friendships could have been saved. Feelings could have been spared. But because we (humans in general and women in particular) don’t like to enage in conflict, we take the “easy” (but far more destructive) way out.

We think, I’ll feel better if I just vent to someone else instead of talking to the person I’m upset with. And for a while, that may be true, but talking about someone doesn’t make them realize the effect of their behavior on you. And it certainly doesn’t help them change. So you blow off some steam, but the root cause of your frustration is still there, so you’re going to get angry again. And you’ll vent again. And the person you’re venting to will get tired of hearing it. They will either view you as a malicious harpy or the person you’re talking about as evil incarnate. It’s a no-win situation.

How much better it would be if we followed the Biblical example set forth in Matthew 18:15-17:

If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won’t accept it, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. (NLT)

I decided long ago not to say anything about someone that I wouldn’t want repeated to them. But that didn’t necessarily mean that they would hear it from me first (or, I might add, correctly!). Reading this chapter has reminded me that I am supposed to speak directly to the person I’m upset with, and I need to go to them first. So I’ve decided that I will not speak of my frustrations with other people unless I have addressed the offending party first. And honestly, it’s what I would like others to do with me. I’ve seen first hand the cesspool effect of gossip within a group, and I know how destructive it can be.

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