If You Have to Correct, Be Decent About It

Correction with graceThree years ago, I changed departments within my company. I accepted the new assignment, welcoming the chance for advancement as well the challenge of learning a new skill set. I’ve learned a lot in the past three years.

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 the regular requirement of my job involves 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.

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….?

Think about it: How quickly would I criticize someone (a politician, a performing artist, a minister, a member of my circle) if I was required look them in the eye when critiquing? 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 lot more palatable.

As a man named Paul once wrote, “…speak the truth in love.”

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Compassion: You Gotta Feel It

com·pas·sion (k m-p sh n). n. Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.

The Gospels tell us more than once that Jesus was moved with compassion.  This sense of feeling the pain, the emptiness, the disillusionment of those around Him motivated His action.

The heart of compassion seeks to relieve suffering.  It is innate in us as creatures made in the image of God.  It can be silenced through self-absorption, cruelty and indifference.

I recently read a story from the life of James Martin.  In his book, In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, he tells about his experience in the corporate world and how his disillusionment with the aggressive, cut-throat, survival-of-the-fittest culture of his Fortune 500 company led him to become a Jesuit.

He recalls one instance where he was instructed to help get rid of a recently lauded employee.  This man had just been given an incentive award, had no documented poor performance and was a fifteen year veteran–an asset to the company.  One of James’ bosses, a mid-level manager I recall, instructed him to get rid of the guy.

“But he’s been with the company for fifteen years and it’s going to be practically impossible for him to get a job.  I mean, have some compassion.” James protested.

His boss’s reply: “F*** compassion.”

It would be patently unfair to cast all of corporate America by this level of callousness.  There is compassion in high places, both commercial and governmental.  But the response of the manager is the antithesis of empathy.  It’s completely without feeling for another human being.

Leprosy is a condition where the one thus afflicted cannot feel pain.  Nerves are deadened and one becomes free of pain, more of a curse than a blessing.  Leprosy by itself does not cause limbs to fall off.  Rather, the person with leprosy cannot feel pain and injures himself and does not treat the injury properly.  The resulting infection can mean the loss of fingers, toes, even limbs.

It’s interesting that leprosy, in Scripture, typifies sin.  When we do wrong, it hardens our ability to feel pain, shame and remorse.

Compassion is something we must recover.

Do you hurt with the suffering you see around you?  Or are you comfortably numb?

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