Editor’s Note: This column original ran Jan. 12, 2017.
My family is naturally analytical. We just can’t help ourselves. We love diagnosing, problem-solving, designing solutions and using these solutions to help people.
Just look at our professions. My siblings include an ICU nurse, two mechanical engineers and a speech pathologist – and I am so darn proud of them. And then there’s me. My line of work is a little more, well … messy.
If you haven’t noticed, people don’t like being analyzed – not at all. We like to be known and understood and accepted, but definitely not analyzed. No one wants to be somebody’s project, just another problem to be solved. We’re wired for connection, for relationship.
But add in our different personalities, backgrounds, cultures, belief systems and quirks, and sometimes relationships feel like problems. It’s easy to find plenty to disagree about. It’s easy to avoid people who make you uncomfortable. But for many of us it’s not so easy to build relationships with people who see the world differently.
Still, Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:9, “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”
Honestly, sometimes this idea feels contrary to our very way of life. Competition can be a core value in our society. And competition can be good in a free-market economy or if you’re running a race, but in healthy relationships, it’s not nearly as helpful.
Perhaps that’s why James 3:17-18 means so much to me: “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.
“You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”
Dignity and honor. Wow. That’s how I want to be treated. But practicing this can be oh so hard. It sounds good in theory, but the analytical part of my brain wants to know that science agrees.
In their book “Rare Leadership” authors Jim Wilder and Marcus Warner describe new discoveries in brain science that prove we problem solve better when we keep relationships bigger than problems. It’s not that the problems magically disappear. Problems still have to be solved, but our focus makes all the difference.
Wilder and Warner go even farther, offering practical hints to keep your brain functioning at its best. They suggest that during a stressful moment you can keep things relational if you are curious, appreciative, kind and envelope conversations, meaning you genuinely affirm each other at both the beginning and end of the conversation. Tough to do in the heat of the moment, right?
But it’s true. Challenging conversations tend to lose some of their intensity when both parties are intentionally affirming, curious to understand, appreciative of each other, kind with both their verbal language and body language and end with affirmation of who each other is, regardless of differing opinions.
I love that the book of James describes a wise and holy life, not as a life lived perfectly but as a life spent intentionally treating each other with mercy, dignity and honor.
It’s hard work but totally worth it. I have energy for this kind of hard work. Why? Because the rewards are so sweet – knowing others and being known.
The Rev. Missy MacPhail is the former pastor of Salida Vineyard Church.