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The Elegant Rebuke Rediscovered

Barry's Razor #3:
One word spake with quiet grace,
    the flinted heart may melt.
    It was the perfect rebuke.
    Gentle. Private. Deserved. And above all, succinct.
    The truth is that I had been gossiping. Over lunch with a close friend, I had gone to great lengths listing all of the theological and character concerns that I harbored about Daniel, a new leader in the church we attended at the time.
    The next morning, my friend called and simply said, "I think I heard more about Daniel yesterday than I needed to."
    Just twelve short words. No doing to me what I had done to Daniel - explaining all of the theological and character concerns raised by my comments.
    No challenge for me to immediately repent and confess my sin.
    A quiet expression that trusted me to understand the point and react appropriately. And in part because of my friend's great confidence in me, that is what occurred.
    I called Daniel two days later and asked if he would meet me in my office. When he arrived, I explained to him that I had been critical of him and gossiping about him. I asked him to forgive me which he readily did. Then we enjoyed a relaxed hour long conversation that both of us fondly recall to this day. I followed that up with phone calls to several other friends to whom I had also made similar comments confessing my gossip and asking them to disregard my comments.
    Do I still disagree with Daniel's theology? Yes, but I found that I can still respect him as a fellow child of God.
    Physicists and engineers have a profound esteem for what they call "elegance." To them, if some great mystery of nature can be explained simply, that law or theorem is deemed "elegant."
    For example, Albert Einstein managed to explain the interrelationship between mass and energy with just three letters and a number: E = MC2. Pure elegance.
    As I have reflected on disagreements that have sadly arisen between close friends of mine, I am reminded of my friend's rebuke. I've also come to recognize how rarely I have followed his example. My rebukes are anything but elegant.
    Maybe it's the lawyer in me, but my rebukes tend to carefully document and explain every aspect. And in this fully annotated format, they lose their effect. More importantly, they wound precisely those whom I love enough to correct.
    By the time that I finish explaining all of the reasons why I'm right and they're wrong, the recipients of my rebukes feel browbeaten into submission. And as Ben Franklin so wisely observed, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."
    I tend to take ownership of the rebukes I issue. I feel compelled for them to be accepted and embraced. I keep pressing the case until they agree and I "win." Then I'm surprised at the distance that seems to have crept into the relationship.
    A friend recently explained to my wife that she has embraced the word "Wow!" She uses it when one of her adult sons announces some life decision that she's pretty sure will be a disaster. Rather than launching into an explanation of why the decision is ill-conceived, she forces herself to simply say "Wow!" Then she waits.
    As you can imagine, when her son begins to explain more about the idea, he often talks himself out of it. All without mom having to do any steering or criticizing. In the end, the child is not convinced "against his will." He owns the conviction.
    In my view, this approach takes to heart the thrust of Proverbs 25:11&12.

Like apples of gold in settings of silver
    Is a word spoken in right circumstances.
Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold
    Is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

    Notice that it is "a word" that is spoken in right circumstances. Not a three point sermon. For my friend, she spoke just one word -"Wow." More often than not, that's all it takes.
    This skill of brevity is critical in our most important relationships, those with our children and our spouses. Yet it is precisely in those relations that we tend to abandon this principle. We correct with a torrent. We disagree with blurted and impatient spewing. We assume that this principle need not be followed in the parent/child relationships.
    We are unwilling to let those we love most work by themselves on the issue until they discover and embrace the truth and then do the right thing. We force feed them. And we rarely find heartfelt agreement.
    But if we will each hold our tongue until we have discerned the best possible "word spoken in right circumstances," our friendships and our most intimate relations will blossom and thrive instead of drifting slowly apart.


BARRY PETERS is an attorney in private practice with offices in Eagle, Idaho, and is one of the legal advisors for both ICHE and CHOIS. His law practice focuses on the areas of real estate contracts, wills & trusts, and business formations

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