People say that if we have a conflict inside of us that we should let all hang out. I don’t really like this advice. Sure if you have a problem with someone you should talk to them about it. But too often this advice is taken to mean – let them have it. Too often people use this as an excuse to attack someone verbally. Expressing our feelings is one thing, but expressing angry feelings can wreck relationships, especially if the anger we feel inside is released over and over again. If we are always mouthing off and criticizing the people around us, for the sake of letting these feelings off our chest, then we won’t have any friends anymore. Often by expressing something negative we create more problems than we solve.
I didn’t like the Lord Mayor of our fair city. He was a nice person and all but I didn’t think he had the skills necessary to turn the city around. So I did what any citizen of these United States has the God given right to do, I voted for another candidate at election time. And before the election I did what any citizen of our wonderful nation also has the right to do, I expressed my negative feelings about our Mayor publicly. Bad move for this clergyman, as you will soon see.
We had a fundraiser at the church. It was to support MS and was being organized by our young people. We were having spaghetti and meatballs, salad, etc… Lots of people came out to support this cause. One of the people who came out was a surprise, the Mayor and his wife. They came in to buy take-out. When I saw him I thought of one thing. He’s trolling for votes. The election is coming up and this guy is getting his face into as many places as possible. My sarcastic mind started to race through the possibilities and I came up with a way to take a verbal jab at the Mayor.
I remembered a cartoon character from a Saturday morning show my kids watch. Mayor White, always dressed in white with white hair (must be a cousin of mine). He goes around the cartoon town with a button on his vest that says, Vote for Me. Whenever he finishes talking he says, Vote for Me. Whenever he speaks in pubic there are signs that say, Vote for Me. You get the picture. This image popped into my head and I just couldn’t hold back.
“Vote for Me”, I said over and over at the dinner table. Lots of people heard me and they all knew just what I meant. “Vote for Me”, I said waving the Nixon v for victory sign. “Vote for Me”, I said a little too often and a little too loudly. I felt like the life of the party, a real class cutup. I was having a good old time, until the party was over.
The Mayor heard me, his wife heard me, many of the leaders of my church heard me and some of them were embarrassed and ashamed. My people approached me afterwards and took me to task. They said that I should be setting an example of Christian love and hospitality and not taking a shot at anyone for any reason. Now, some people defended my actions and said that I was just expressing what everyone felt. But my detractors are right. As a minister I should be setting an example. And I shouldn’t be taking pot shots at anyone. It was a disgraceful episode that I should not have allowed to happen.
Because of this and other experiences, I no longer buy into the idea that expressing our feelings is an excuse for launching verbal assaults at another person. Expressing feelings has become the defense we use to explain why we hurt others. We now have an entire industry on cable TV devoted to expressing feelings. What it is really devoted to is making money through the verbal abuse. We all shake our heads at it, but we keep watching. Very sad.
It’s been my experience that the negative thoughts and feelings that bounce around inside my head eventually come out. Like I said previously, most councilors tell us that we should express ourselves. But if I constantly let my wife hear every negative thought that enters my brain, our relationship will be damaged and possibly destroyed. There is a difference between expressing our feelings and smashing someone over the head with them over and over again. There must be a better way.
If I want to prevent conflict with the people I love, I have to take care of the conflicts inside of me first. Then I can express my feelings with understanding and love, the way the Master taught us to.