Lack of trust robs us of freedom

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed a great deal of the news is devoted to the presentation or the pursuit of information that would prove one thing or another. We’ve tracked down birth certificates and we’ve clamored to see pictures of a dead terrorist. And we’ve then spent countless hours discussing whether it was right or wrong to demand such proof.

I’m not really writing about the right and wrong of any of that. Indeed, given the rhetoric that is circling, the only thing I could be sure of is that more than half of my readers would think I was wrong. After all, beliefs or concepts different from my own represent hidden agenda, don’t they?

No, I’m really writing to lament the fact that we invest an inordinate amount of our lives into activities designed to discredit others. I’m not naive. I understand that there is a lot deception in this world. And I also fully grasp my own tendency to misperception.

But what if I could trust others? What if I could rest assured that my leaders aren’t “spinning” facts simply to manipulate? What if I could rely on any and everything said by people I see each day — stranger, co-worker and friend?

I know, I know. That would be a fantasy land.

Yet, think of how much time we would have to do things that are truly productive. Dream with me about our social problems dwindling — and some even disappearing.

Lack of trust enslaves me to questioning, probing, doubting, and even vilifying almost everyone around me. Lack of trust robs me of my freedom to be wholly creative . . . and caring for others.

I don’t have a global solution. I can’t even recommend that you drop your defenses. But individually, I can live my life as a trustworthy person. I can’t control whether others will actually trust me. Yet I can do everything within my power to give them that opportunity.

There is a place of absolute freedom. God creates solace from the nagging fear of the unknown and how it might hurt us. In Him, we are free.

Space, the First Frontier

We don’t know the full story. We know two men came to conflict. Road rage. Things were said. Aggressive actions were taken. Guns were drawn. Shots were fired. A young man died.

A number of people have called or stopped by to ask me my thoughts. How could this happen here — in our quiet community? What can be done to stop this kind of thing? How did things go so horribly wrong?

Beyond the local news, a quick look around the world shows the ugly side of conflict. (And there is another side, by the way.) Why do disagreements escalate? Why do people continue on a path that most certainly will lead to violence?

These questions — and their answers — are complex. Yet, the most practical response is that, in times of conflict, people need space. As a protective process, our brains in times of stress direct every possible ounce of energy to the self. So, when a threat appears, we instantly jump into this place of absolute attention to our own well-being. All of our “space” disappears as we come into direct, raw contact with our fears, our anger, and an all-consuming drive to “win the moment.”

In moments of interpersonal conflict, this grind of conviction and self-centered determination is intensified by the actions of others who are, as a result of their own stress, invading our space. Often, because of our focus on our own needs, we don’t recognize that we are making it more difficult for someone else. Nor do they understand the role they are playing in fueling my negative reactions.

In times like that, people need space. You need space. The conventional wisdom was “count to ten before you answer.” That’s still good advice. But even counting to one will help.

Brain research indicates that many of our daily actions can be classified as impulses. And the brain receives notice of an intended impulse — an “action potential” — about half a second before the action is taken. Amazingly, we can arrest that action and stop it in its track in as little as two-tenths of a second.

But we need that space. And the stronger the emotion and the greater the amount of adrenaline coursing through our blood, the larger that space needs to be.

The first physical action toward keeping peace is in creating that space — first for ourselves, and then for others near by.

The next time you feel strong emotion, but particularly anger, do whatever it takes to create space for a reasoned response. At the very least, count to one.

A pregnant pause

Have you ever had one of those conversations? You know what I’m talking about. Your co-worker sidles up to you and — BAM!!! — out of nowhere comes a little comment that just sits crookedly on top of everything else. And then the engine roars and the fury train screams by . . .

While she continues with her angry discourse on what she sees as your failings,

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your mind is rolling. What did she mean by that? Why would she say that to me? Most important, what can I say to her that will let her know I am offended and, even more importantly, that she was absolutely, positively wrong . . . and stupid . . . and insensitive . . . and perhaps the ultimate example of human pond scum.

What do you say in a moment like that?


Instead, pause. A few seconds. A deep breath or two. And then ask yourself some questions to help you equip for a more meaningful conversation.

From what is being said, am I totally clear on what she is talking about? (Do I understand the context of the conversation?)

What amount of truth is in her words? (Am I clear on my role in the controversy or dispute?)

If she has her facts wrong, can I understand why she might have that perspective? (What could have led her to that perception?)

The time will come for you to speak. In times of conflict and high emotion, be certain that you’re ready for that moment. And make sure that you respond in a way that allows the conversation to continue in a productive way.

Sometimes, the space you provide by pausing can shift the direction of the interaction. And even if it doesn’t calm down your co-worker, it will do wonders in reducing your personal anger.

On human achievement

I was fascinated by Bill Bryson’s book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”  Bridging topics from alchemistry to volcanoes, Bryson spun an entertaining story of scientific discovery, natural oddities, and the often humorous ways that men and women have stumbled through the ages.

What I was most taken by was the ever-more-apparent thought that the complexity of our physical world cannot simply be the product of happenstance.  When we look at the vastness of our universe — a vastness we don’t even know how to express — and we begin to wonder at the chance circumstance that life in the way we know it could just “be,” I can’t fathom that the intricate balance of temperature, elements, distance, and time simply fell together in this moment of time to bring us here.

I’m not smart enough to argue about how everything got to be the way it is — I have no pet theories and I certainly harbor no certainties.  I’m just confident that God had to have a hand in it.  And because Scripture tells us that he intentionally brought humans into existence, I have to think that he intentionally brought us into a physical world of change and wonder.

So, when I hear the stories of how we have, through the ages, poked at and wondered about this world, I have to be in awe of how God has blessed us not only with an intricate and wonderful place, but how he has also given us an immense laboratory for discovery.  And I believe that God is delighted when we take an interest in what he has provided.

And I think he giggles when we boast about what we’ve done.

Cost-benefit analysis

I’ve always wanted to write authoritatively about that phrase, “cost-benefit analysis.”  There are other phrases, too, of course, like gifted banjo player, best-selling author, sought-after inspirational speaker, and retired sky-diver.  All have a common element — I haven’t really invested much time or energy into any of them.  I’ve picked a little at the banjo.  I’ve written mainly for personal therapy and reflection.  I did manage to sneak a chapter in the book of some colleagues as contributing author and learned about the publishing business.  Really not much in it for contributing authors, if you were wondering. I have been the orator of choice several times (last choice, I think).  And to be a retired sky-diver I would first have to be a sky-diver, which brings me back to cost-benefit analysis.

Apparently the concept behind cost-benefit analysis is that a reasonable person will pull together sufficient data to weigh various options for action.  Then, based on that, select the action with the lowest cost and highest benefit and proceed in that direction.

So, cost-benefit analysis is a primary tool for people mired in conflict or plagued by tough decisions.  Yet, many people in conflict — particularly personal conflict (and almost all of it has an element of personal conflict) — aren’t reasonable.  Putting that tool in the hands of these people has been an important role for friends, mediators, ministers, counselors, and co-workers.

I’m pretty good at recommending cost-benefit analysis to people at my peace table.  In fact, I’ve been downright smug about it.  Thinking about my personal experiences with conflict, I’ve come to realize that the obvious wisdom of choosing the lowest-cost, highest-benefit option is often beyond my grasp in a moment of desperation.  And is, perhaps, not wise at all.

As I wrote about the price of reconciliation in an earlier entry, I was contemplating the idea of cost and benefit.  I suggested that the price tag attached to the neck of the conflict was loss of power.  In a moment of high anxiety, many can’t see beyond this “retail” price.

I’m not an economist (although I know one who has successfully forecast 10 of the last 2 recessions) and I’m not a finance guy.  But I would think that cost and benefit are far more complex than they seem.

I’m discovering that I can’t ask someone to consider the cost of reconciliation and assume that they understand the corresponding benefit.  Although it is the hope of that benefit that drives them to my mediation table, the cost analysis is often too daunting.

For many, reconciliation seems to require concession or absolute surrender to the other person.  Thus, the perception that the loss of power is the price of reconciliation.

When people of faith are at my table, I’m learning to point them to a “third party” transaction.  What if we conceded or (and this is revolutionary) absolutely surrendered to God before we come to the table?  Truth is, if we all did this, mediators would be out of work.  Most believers readily acknowledge their desire to reconcile with God.  Most would, however, also point out the difficulty of achieving that from our human perspective.

When we begin to see that God is providing us with ample opportunity to learn about reconciliation with others that we begin to understand that reconciliation with him is right before us.  In fact, he has offered to pay the “retail” price for that reconciliation.

While lowest-cost, highest benefit is a great business model and a rational path, I’m learning that highest-cost, highest benefit is a more godly way for believers.  The problem of high cost obscuring the benefit is still present.  That’s why those who stand by can best counsel by pointing to the benefits.  And by sharing words written by those who have concentrated less on understanding God’s mind and more on learning his heart:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on God’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  2 Corinthians 5:16-20 (TNIV).

We can’t truly measure the costs until we fully appreciate the benefits.  If the price of reconciliation is too high for you, what will be your burden for the loss of the benefit?