There was a training course offered today at work called “Nonviolent Crisis Intervention“. It was designed to assist the school’s staff on ways to avert a crisis and then de-escalate the situation.
It was an excellent class presented by an excellent teacher. He taught that in order to successfully modify someone’s aggressive behavior it is important to remember that our first goal is to win them over to our way thinking. I found this interesting in that much of what he taught was similar to what I had learned over years in business. A couple of things in particular stood out;
When it comes to managing people (family, students, customers, employees, church members etc) we will rarely be successful in trying to exert our will over the other person. We need to understand where that person is coming from, how they see things differently than we do and even if they comprehend the immediate situation. “There is no reality for us other than that of the customer’s perception” is something we used to say in the restaurant business.
Once we understand their state of mind we need to convey our empathy. They need to see something of themselves in us and to do this we need to see something of ourselves in them. To try and change their perception by imposing our authority is likely to end up with us driving them farther away. Before our authority can hold any validity (outside of inciting fear, which is not a lasting means of behavior management) they must be able to relate to us in some fashion. There needs be a point of recognition that they can identify with. This is difficult to do if we continue to take the high ground and insist upon certain behaviors merely because our given ‘authority’ can justify it. The great number of violent political revolutions would support this.
Often, in response to given direction someone will ask a question that can easily be mistaken as being irrational and provocative. Our teacher today gave an example:
Suppose we see a child (in this case a student) drop a potato chip on the floor and do nothing about it. We ask the child to pick up the chip and his or her response is; “Why should I?” Most of us would probably see this as being disrespectful and designed to provoke a negative response on our part. But there is a very good chance that this is an honest question. What if the child has been reared in a home in which no one is expected to pick up food when they drop it? What if the examples that they have been given have created this learned response on their part? (I have worked with new cooks who were flabbergasted when I would request they clean behind themselves. That had always been someone else’s responsibility.) So the tenor of our response is very important here.
It is important that the child (or anyone else), rather than having to face the typical imperiousness of adults, be made to understand that we will take their questions and concerns on face value and address them openly and honestly. This begins to lay the groundwork for mutual trust, a groundwork that is sturdy enough to last the distance and hopefully avert future problems.
There is a good lesson here, particularly in how we ‘evangelize’ (‘evangel’ [eu-angel] from the Greek to mean ‘good messenger’ ). It’s not surprising that we are less than successful when we tell people that our words are ‘right’ because they come from the Bible. Or that a particular way of living is desirable because of how God ‘wants’ it. Few seem to be afraid of the hell fire and damnation that some of the converted find so convincing. The religious stick of punishment seems to hold little allure for someone with such different world views than our own. In fact, because it is often lacking in empathy and respect, there is a good chance that it will turn them in the other direction. Their questions and comments, so often seen as inlfammatory and disrespectuf to us and of God, are likely to be legitimate and rational. To angrily respond to them from a position of alien authority is irrational on our part.
But what of God’s sovereignty? Compared to what God wants to say, does it matter very much what we want to hear? Well, perhaps not. But the Bible seems to suggest that we will be more comfortable with the message when we are comfortable with the messenger. It is no accident that Jesus is the most perfect persuader for God.
We are familiar with the Old Testament stories of people primarily seeing God as fearful, adjudicating, wrathful and punishing. We have the analogies of God as a parent, having to hurt us in order to help us. There is God as the benevolent dictator, requiring righteous behavior and punishing the unrighteous because anything else would be unfair, unbalanced and unjust. The history of the Bible consistently presents this fearful, authoritarian image of God. It also reaveals that, as a persuasive tactic, it has been terribly unsuccessful. With all the intimidating language, the chosen people usually chose something other than God’s way.
This tactic was so unsuccessful that a totally different course of action was employed. The message of God, his Word, took on flesh as Jesus, a mortal man that we could relate to – as opposed to a God we never really could. The means by which Jesus conveyed this message was done in a way that allowed us to figure it out for ourselves, discovering it in our own individual ways. We have been invited to come closer, learning the lesson in terms we can understand, worked out through our relationship with Jesus. He shows us how to ‘love’ the lesson, not only because he is the lesson but because he allows us to find the unique way it works for us. He permits us to see some of ourselves in him and then, hopefully, others will see some of him in us.
Jesus does not try forcing us to obey him by invoking his authority, an authority that God has certainly given him. Through weakness and brokeness he attracts those who do not respond to well to threats and intimidation. Which happens to be just about all of us.