Feel for the Other…Then Act

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

(Harper Lee)

 

Suggested Resources:

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Karen Armstrong)

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty (Simon Baron-Cohen)

 

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Criticism and Graciousness

criticismTwo years ago, I changed positions within my company.  I welcomed the chance for advancement as well the challenge of learning a new skill set.  I’ve been at this for about twenty-three months now.

I work in Information Technology.  IT is a field that is characterized by regular innovation and obsolescence, multiple problem-solving opportunities and, if done well, precision.  I work in the Quality Assurance department of our company.  It is the task of my very able colleagues and I to assure that the product we deliver to our clients (Fortune 500 companies and others) is of the highest quality and functions flawlessly.  In a word, our work has to be perfect.  Or as close to perfect as is humanly possible.

This means that a regular requirement of my job involves me inspecting the work—essentially, architectural drawings of computer equipment–of my colleagues and calling them over to my desk to go over what they’ve submitted, praising wherever possible, but also pointing out errors and mistakes, how to correct them and improve the overall quality of their work.

We have an office full of winsome and intelligent professionals who take their work very seriously and are sensitive to any shortcomings in what they produce.  I’ve watched as some of them look crestfallen—furrowed brow and all—when I’ve brought an error to their attention.  I try not to be calloused when dealing with people.  Ask those who know me.  They’ll tell you.  Especially when I have to look in the eyes of the one I am critiquing.  I fall all over myself, feeling bad that I have to take some sunshine out of their day.

Real correction is not a picnic.  Real, meaning when you have to look square in the eyes of someone and smell their perfume, cologne or even their breath.

I must tell you that this has given me an entirely different perspective on the often irresponsible practice of criticizing another human being who doesn’t happen to be in the same room, out of earshot and eye contact.  A practice, unfortunately, that comes easy to human beings.  And easy to me.

I try to critique those for whom I’m responsible with as much grace as is humanly possible.  I have to look them in the eye when I do it.  It’s really easy to be a critic when those who are the target of your criticisms will never be within breathing distance.  That’s like shooting fish in a pail.  No challenge.  No intelligence needed.  And often, given the nature of the criticisms, no intelligence involved at any stage.

Maybe this should be the benchmark for our often glib and sloppy criticisms of people and stuff.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” says a proverb from the Bible (Proverbs 18:21).  Can you look the person in the eye? Would you…?  How quickly would we criticize someone (a politician, a performing artist, a minister, a member of my circle) if we were required be in the same room when giving a critique of their work?  Just like I have to do each day with my co-workers.

I’ve found that showing genuine appreciation wherever possible creates life.  In others and in me.  And it makes the corrections a whole lot more palatable.  If you must critique and correct, do so with grace, tact and love.

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What Makes A True Friend Anyway?

There is a proverb in the Bible that goes like this: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

We all survive and thrive on the comfort of those who know us best, who get us back on our feet and help us to carry on when the going gets tough.

This year, I’ve been challenged to take my ability to be a friend to another level.  My wife and I have made some strategic decisions and are laying out goals for our personal and professional development.  Often, in my desire to offer comfort I sabotage her by offering a way out of difficulty rather than challenge in the pursuit of her goals and dreams.  She’s told me, “I really need you to be a friend to me and not let me out of these goals when things are not easy.”

I have to admit, it’s far easier for me to soothe when I should be urging her on to the mark with affection and encouragement.

How about you?

As a friend, you are able to speak in love to those in your orbit and help them become the best they can be.  In fact, it’s your love and commitment that makes such direct challenges palatable.

Here’s some starters to help be a better friend:

  • “You’re overextending yourself.  Why don’t you get to bed a little earlier?”
  • “Come on.  You’re better than that!”
  • ”You really don’t need that second helping of goulash (or glass of wine).”
  • “There’s a trend I’m seeing in your attitudes.  Let’s talk about it.  I’ll walk with you  through this.”
  • “You need to take better care of yourself.  Why don’t you make an appointment to see a doctor?”
  • “Be a class act.  Don’t descend to the level of petty gossip and malice over what [insert name] has disappointed you with.”

Being a friend surely means offering solace and empathy.  But it also has the character of a good coach—you help those you love to win.  Be that friend.

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Criticism and Empathy

Last August, I was given the opportunity to change positions within my company.  I accepted, welcoming the chance for advancement as well the challenge of learning a new skill set.  I’ve been at this new task about ten months now.

I work in Information Technology.  IT is a field that is characterized by regular innovation and obsolescence, multiple problem-solving opportunities and, if done well, precision.  I now work in the Quality Assurance department of our company.  It is the task of my very able colleagues and I to assure that the product we deliver to our clients (Fortune 500 companies and others) is of the highest quality and functions flawlessly.  In a word, our work has to be perfect.  Or as close to perfect as is humanly possible.

This means that a regular requirement of my job involves me inspecting the work of my colleagues and calling them over to my desk to go over what they’ve submitted, praising wherever possible, but also pointing out errors and mistakes, how to correct them and improve the overall quality of their work.

We have an office full of winsome and intelligent professionals who take their work very seriously and are sensitive to any shortcomings in what they produce.  I’ve watched as some of them look crestfallen—furrowed brow and all—when I’ve brought an error to their attention.  I try not to be calloused when dealing with people.  Ask those who know me.  They’ll tell you.  Especially when I have to look in the eyes of the one I am critiquing.  I fall all over myself, feeling bad that I have to take some sunshine out of their day.

Real correction is not a picnic.  Real, meaning when you have to look square in the eyes of someone and smell their perfume, cologne or even their breath.

I must tell you that this has given me an entirely different perspective on the often irresponsible practice of criticizing another human being who doesn’t happen to be in the same room, out of earshot and eye contact.  A practice, unfortunately, that comes easy to human beings.  And easy to me.

I try to critique those for whom I’m responsible with as much grace as is humanly possible.  I have to look them in the eye when I do it.  It’s really easy to be a critic when those who are the target of your criticisms will never be within breathing distance.  That’s like shooting fish in a pail.  No challenge.  No intelligence needed.  And often, given the nature of the criticisms, no intelligence involved at any stage.

Maybe this should be the benchmark for our often glib and sloppy criticisms of people and stuff.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21) the Scriptures inform us.  Can you look the person in the eye? Would you…?  How quickly would we criticize someone (a politician, a performing artist, a minister, a member of my circle) if we were required be in the same room when giving a critique of their work?  Just like I have to do each day with my co-workers.

I’ve found that showing genuine appreciation wherever possible creates life.  In others and in me.  And it makes the corrections a whole lot more palatable.  I think there’s a reason Paul the apostle told us to “speak the truth in love.”

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Fragile

The Bible uses really vivid imagery when describing humanity.  One favorite biblical metaphor for human beings is grass.  I live in northern New York near the Canadian border.  Our Winters tend to be long and cold.  During the cold Winter months, the grass—sometimes snow-blanketed, sometimes not—takes on a pale yellow hue.  It does not look all that nice.

Then comes the Spring, faithfully.  Rain.  Warmer temps.  Sunshine.  And the North Country begins to resemble the Emerald Isle.  This lasts well into the Summer.  Until the heat comes coupled by long periods without rain.  And the grass withers.  Loses its beautiful green luster.  At times it almost looks like a desert.

      “A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8)

We’re all astonishingly fragile creatures.  Like grass, we fade and wilt when life hits us.  So be gentle with your fellow humanoids.  We all have good days and bad.  Seasons of health and confidence.  And times of struggle, sickness and disappointment.  It’s the human condition.  Entropy.

And it’s the reason God became one of us….

Looking In the Eyes Of Those We Criticize

Recently, I was given the opportunity to change positions within my company.  I accepted, welcoming the chance for advancement as well the challenge of learning a new skill set.  I’ve been at this new task a couple of months now.

I work in Information Technology.  IT is a field that is characterized by regular innovation and obsolescence, multiple problem-solving opportunities and, if done well, precision.  I now work in the Quality Assurance department of our company.  It is the task of my very able colleagues and I to assure that the product we deliver to our clients (Fortune 500 companies and others) is of the highest quality and functions flawlessly.  In a word, our work has to be perfect.  Or as close to perfect as is humanly possible.

This means that a regular requirement of my job involves me inspecting the work of my colleagues and calling them over to my desk to go over what they’ve submitted, praising wherever possible, but also pointing out errors and mistakes, how to correct them and improve the overall quality of their work.

We have an office full of winsome and intelligent professionals who take their work very seriously and are sensitive to any shortcomings in what they produce.  I’ve watched as some of them look crestfallen—furrowed brow and all—when I’ve brought an error to their attention.  I try not to be calloused when dealing with people.  Ask those who know me.  They’ll tell you.  Especially when I have to look in the eyes of the one I am critiquing.  I fall all over myself, feeling bad that I have to take some sunshine out of their day.

Real correction is not a picnic.  Real, meaning when you have to look square in the eyes of someone and smell their perfume, cologne or even their breath.

I must tell you that this has given me an entirely different perspective on the often irresponsible practice of criticizing another human being who doesn’t happen to be in the same room, out of earshot and eye contact.  A practice, unfortunately, that comes easy to human beings.  And easy to me.

I try to critique those for whom I’m responsible with as much grace as is humanly possible.  I have to look them in the eye when I do it.  It’s really easy to be a critic when those who are the target of your criticisms will never be within breathing distance.  That’s like shooting fish in a pail.  No challenge.  No intelligence needed.  And often, given the nature of the criticisms, no intelligence involved at any stage.

Maybe this should be the benchmark for our often glib and sloppy criticisms of people and stuff.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21) the Scriptures inform us.  Can you look the person in the eye? Would you…?  How quickly would we criticize someone (a politician, a performing artist, a minister, a member of my circle) if we were required be in the same room when giving a critique of their work?  Just like I have to do each day with my co-workers.

I’ve found that showing genuine appreciation wherever possible creates life.  In others and in me.  And it makes the corrections a whole lot more palatable.  I think there’s a reason Paul the apostle told us to “speak the truth in love.”