If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
This is possibly one of the most famous passages in the Bible, found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It is frequently read at weddings, even non-religious weddings, where more often than not it is picked up at verse 4: “Love is patient and kind” with the implication that the “Love” spoken about is the love between the “Happy Couple” being wed. Religious purists would claim that this is not the type of love the author was referring to at all. However, I do not intend to delve into those type of intricacies here.
I have been pondering lately the thorny concept of how it is that people who we love, and profess to love us, can really get under our skin, can wrong us, can hurt us, can be thoughtless. But yet not mean to. Or not intend to. Or have good intentions. But yet, the damage is done. However, underneath, that person still has a relationship with you – they might be your friend, your family member, your colleague. And they are not necessarily a bad person.
Yet in their thoughts, their words, their actions, they have done damage.
How do you reconcile that?
How do you deal with somebody you love but who is volatile? Can you love somebody but ultimately not trust them?
I had a difficulty with one such person recently. Afterward, I confided the situation to a mutual friend, who had known both of us for literally decades. I lamented that there was so much good in this person, but if she could only change….. His response: “But that’s just what she’s like”. “She will never change”
What about the reverse? A person who you love. But is not always particularly warm to you, that you wonder sometimes if they actually “approve” of you, that sometimes makes you feel unworthy, but is utterly, utterly dependable and you would trust with your life? But that you wish would be more demonstrative? Who would show you that they notice? Maybe tell you that you are appreciated?
Similarly I confided such a desire to a relative of such a person recently. “But he’s always been like that, all his life. It’s just his way. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.”
A dozen years ago, when my son was a baby, I was a member of an excellent group called MOPs (an acronym for “Mothers of Pre-schoolers”). It was a Mothers Group with a difference – sponsored by a local church in the Regional town in which I lived at that time. The organisers provided a crèche for our children so the women could spend adult time together. Many of us, some with newborns and therefore suffering interrupted sleep and surrounded by nappies, lived for those two hours per fortnight where we could feel semi-human.
At one stage we took on a parenting course, as many of us had a toddler as well. One unit dealt with appropriate discipline of Toddler behaviour, and I remember well an illustration where a see-saw was drawn, with “Wilful Disobedience” at one end and “Childish irresponsibility” on the other. The distinction was made that a child should not be severely punished for, say, simply being clumsy – such as knocking over a drink. Equally the FIRST time they “misbehaved” the parent could “give the benefit of the doubt” that the child did not KNOW the behaviour as “Wrong” or inappropriate. However, once the child DID understand this, then SUBSEQUENTLY, it was a different story.
The other thing reinforced in “Parenting 101” was to “Focus on the Action, not the person”. Hence, (and sadly this is all too common) the scenario of a toddler screaming in a supermarket, frustrated mother yelling “YOU ARE A NIGHTMARE” is Wrong. Admonishing the child: “It is not acceptable to hit your sister” = Correct.
How does all this tie together? As the Corinthians passage puts it, “11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
As adults, “Conflict Resolution” techniques also teach to “Focus on the Action, not the person”. Sadly in my experience, adults can be extremely bad at this. All too often, when there are difficulties, problems, disasters, or personal conflicts, very quickly things degenerate into a “Blame Game” and it becomes more about “Saving Face” and “Might over Right” and the first casualty is often the truth. The smallest and most fragile and vulnerable are often trampled and the victim blamed, while there is a scramble to cover-up.
As rarely problems only occur due to one single factor, the honest thing to do would be to appraise all the components, see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and see what could be improved next time, with each in good conscience and fairly taking responsibility for their own part, no matter how big or small – plus acknowledging other circumstantial factors outside anyone’s control. However, for this to happen, there needs to be a large serving of honesty, humility and grace, which is sadly lacking amongst many.
And, as the old saying goes, Power Corrupts. The more powerful an individual, the less likely one is to see them put their hands up and utter those three incredibly difficult words to say…not “I love you” but “I WAS WRONG”.
This may all seem very deep and profound, but, as I suggested, I have been doing much thinking and contemplating of late.
I’ve also been reflecting on this. What is my own part in various difficulties that have beset me over recent times? To what extent do I need to take responsibility for my own problems?
Am I, indeed, the problem? Am I a lightning rod for problems?
Have I caused much of my own misery over the last 18 months because of the person that I am and/or my own actions? Has the conflict I have suffered in that period of time – and at various times over the entire of my adult life – actually largely been my own fault?
Am I wrong to see myself, at least in some instances, as “the victim”?
Am I, indeed, the cause of my own misery?
Last year, in the midst of a lot of personal turmoil, an authoritative person tried to counsel me over my “faults”. Which he detailed as “Your passion for what you do can overwhelm others. Your singlemindedness about your work is something that people find difficult”. At the time I was relieved, as I thought that there were plenty of worse “faults” I could have been criticised for.
But then, this month, I have been accused of talking too much and listening too little (a recurring theme of which I know I am frequently guilty) but also of being “pushy and aggressive” which startled me. As I have never perceived myself as an aggressive person. And again the issue of promoting something I believed in has been raised, which reminded me of this other man’s words. Perhaps he actually meant “Pushy and aggressive” but was being kind.
Fables abound as thoughtful life lessons…most children will know for example, the tale of “The Hare and the Tortoise”.
Here is another which I find most telling.
The Fable of the Frog and the Scorpion:
Once there was a beautiful frog who was about to make her way across the river.
A scorpion came to her and asked her “please may I ride across on your back?”
Frog refused, of course, because she was afraid the scorpion would sting her. But the scorpion assured her: “No, I promise I won’t sting you, I am grateful that you would help me. Why would I sting you?”
The frog then decided that she would trust the scorpion and take it across the river….
During the swim across the scorpion stings her.
The frog yells in pain and asks WHY he did that.
“It was an accident and won’t happen again.” said the scorpion.
The frog continues to allow the scorpion to ride with her and keeps swimming.
“Thank you for being kind” said the scorpion. “You’re welcome” said the frog.
And just as the frog was reaching the other shore of the river the scorpion stung her again.
While in pain the frog yelled “WHY would you do that?? Now we are both going to die! We will drown!”
The scorpion looked to her and said “It is my Nature.”
To what extent can we modify our nature?
We all have certain character traits, natures if you like, and also innate skills and attributes.
Sometimes the gene pool is strong. In my own family my 12 year old is, in many ways, his father’s son, in looks and in perhaps his hot-wired traits.
But he is not a total clone. For one thing, he has had my influence as a mother – both genetic and nurturing, which must surely have rubbed off somewhere. Plus he has had different opportunities in life than his father had. One good example is that we have been able to encourage his innate cricketing skills and he has played at Club level from the age of 7 – an opportunity in a different era and country (England) his father did not have.
Recently my 15 year old daughter received an Academic Award at school for “A” grades in four different subjects. Some boys in one of her classes apparently paid her some clumsy compliments, then were a little embarrassed when they realised they might have implied (she is attractive and blonde) that they didn’t realise she was smart. “Oh”, Miss15 replied brightly, “It’s Okay. I might be good at Chemistry, but I have no Common Sense.” And then went on to disarm the young men by telling some anecdotes against herself.
Our basic character types – categorised various ways by experts – are something which I do not believe we can much change.
However, I believe what we can change is our behaviour and attitude.
So, therefore, for example, if we are creative, relaxed and happy-go-lucky by nature, but therefore not innately a good timekeeper – which frustrates others and makes us appear unreliable – it is possible to learn to set alarms, write diaries and develop organisational techniques.
Similarly, people who are not naturally warm and personable characters are not going to have a personality change overnight – but this does not mean that they need to go through life – and workplace situations for example – bullying and demeaning others in order to get their own way. It is possible – and certainly desirable – to learn and exhibit more appropriate “people management skills”, whether or not they “come naturally”.
I believe we can choose our behaviour and can make choices in our actions. We might not be able to change our basic character type, but we do not need to be slave to its flaws.
And, as adults, surely we can learn to think before we speak, plan courses of action and endeavour not to hurt others.
One of the things I struggle with the most is unfairness and injustice. For others, and to a lesser extent, for myself.
Like my daughter (although she is evidently younger, prettier and definitely slimmer), my ditzy blonde image belies the fact that I am not quite as dumb as I may appear. I believe I possess quite some logic, education and intelligence. My world needs to make sense to me and it really rankles with me when it does not.
Therefore when I see dishonesty, cover-ups and blame-shifting or simply people not playing fair, it really disturbs me. What I, on a personal basis hate most, is being blamed for things I have not done. Of course, it is awkward for anyone to be criticised, and when we know we are wrong or have contributed to a bad situation and there is an aspect of guilt, it is uncomfortable. But I think I am big enough to take responsibility for and “own” my part. What disturbs me is when others will not, and especially when they look to deflect blame elsewhere.
So I will go back now and attempt to answer my own questions.
- How do I reconcile that a person who loves me can hurt me, through their thoughts, words and deeds? And, importantly, should I forgive them when they do?
- How do I deal with a person who I love and trust but who does not demonstrate that they love me?
- How do I recover from the trauma left by being abused by those who appear completely unrepentant, indeed apparently continue exactly the same behaviour towards others, having not learnt or modified their ways despite past difficulties?
- How do I cope with being blamed for difficulties which I believe I did not cause? (Or only partly caused)? And being accused of things I have not done?
I have come to the conclusion that the best I can do in all these scenarios is essentially the same, and both profoundly simple and extremely difficult at the same time.
The first two are really the simplest. Frustrating as the “sinner” might be, having seen the error of her ways and understood what she has done wrong, she has apologised and deserves forgiveness. Hanging onto what has gone wrong will achieve nothing. And the person is more important, ultimately, than the action. However, the consequence is that you need be wary of trusting that person in the future.
For the second, the underlying relationship is in the long run more important than overt displays of affection – nice as that may be. And Trust in relationships is ultimately more significant than outward appearances.
The third is one I have most struggled with, debated strongly with trusted confidants for literally hours, and literally cried over. Unfortunately, in my experience, some people just do not take responsibility for their actions and continue to inflict hurt on others. Continuing to forgive the unrepentant really is “Cheap Grace”. For true reconciliation, I believe there (at least from Christian perspective) needs to be understanding of wrongdoing, some repentance, and at least the intent to not do the same again.
Living in England in the early 1990’s when the IRA was active, you would periodically see a grieving parent go on television generously stating forgiveness to an IRA Bomber who caused the death of their child. The fact that parent could forgive, rather than hold that bitterness and even hatred in their heart, will ultimately be healthier for them and perhaps help them to deal with their grief.
However in many cases there is never any true resolution, or problems are only solved superficially, or “papered over the cracks” between two individuals because the root causes are never tackled and properly resolved. In my experience, I have unfortunately had repeated conflict with certain individuals for this very reason. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
I finally had a personal breakthrough on this issue, paradoxically through a light-hearted chat recently with a mutual contact. It was mentioned in passing that a person who I had suffered great difficulty with, and I had been blamed for past problems with, and had come to the position I held responsibility for a large part of those issues, was, in many ways still exactly the same “whether you, Kylie, are here or not”. This lifted a great weight from my shoulders as I finally came to a recognition that, at least to some extent, like the scorpion said: “It is [their] Nature.”
And dealing with being blamed for things I have not done? Much as this rankles, to be wary of those who do not deal with me fairly. To learn to better trust myself, to have faith in myself as others have faith in me.
Because the one thing which I have not noted – thus far – is how truly humbled I am by how many people have supported me in good times and in bad, have shown faith in me even when I have doubted myself, and have been there for me when I have truly needed it. Because I, too, am imperfect. And they have demonstrated their love for me.
This month I celebrated a round-number birthday and my husband and I our 25th wedding anniversary.
We had relatives come to join us from Melbourne, and a long term friend from Perth. Others drove long distances from Queensland locations.
We coupled a party on the Saturday night with friends and family with a formal restatement of vows in Church on Sunday morning, which was my actual birthday.
We were especially blessed that the wonderful Minister who conducted our original wedding ceremony, now long retired, made the trip from Adelaide for the weekend, just because I asked.
As both my husband and I have had our own separate difficulties in recent times, the presence of Pastor John was literally a Godsend in our home for the weekend for many, many reasons.
The very fact that he would come was incredible, but his calming presence and quiet wisdom on many fronts was just what we and others needed.
So, what to ultimately make of all of this?
When all is said and done, life is imperfect, people are imperfect,
Do not be dragged down in by those who would draw you into darkness
But cherish those who uphold you in the light.
For we are surrounded by Love.