Except for those striving to live “off the grid” in the backwoods, we all live in communities with at least hundreds of other humans. And therein lies one of the greatest challenges we face in life: getting along with other people!
The field of ethics is concerned with the core values and convictions we hold as they relate to behavior. And since this column purports to play around in the messy fields of ethical living, here are some thoughts on four essential tools for getting along.
Of course, this presupposes we want to both live in proximity with other people, and also do so in a way that benefits us all. Getting along with those around us, even those with whom we differ, has always been a fundamental piece of every ordered society.
For most of us it started in the home, became a bit more necessary when we entered school, and continues to be a skill in both personal and professional relationships. So, if you need a refresher course in getting along, here you go.
A good starting point in relating to others is to have reasonable expectations. We all realize you can’t expect a 4-year-old to do a good job filling out your tax return. We consciously match maturity level with our expectation of success. But too often that is not the case in other relationships.
I have found that unreasonable expectations often are the on-ramp to disappointment. This is especially true if my expectations, reasonable or not, go unexpressed.
Have you ever been frustrated when someone failed to live up to your expectations, only to remember you never expressed them? Here’s the deal: Unexpressed expectations are seldom met, and unmet expectations are often the stuff of conflict.
The idea of proper expression flows into No. 2, mature communication. Ask anyone about their relationships, both personal and professional, and the wise one will tell you communication is super important.
But I want to clarify it a bit and demand communication be mature. Yelling is communication, but seldom is it helpful. Gossip, innuendo, mocking, lying, and all manner of other expression can be classified as communication, but it sure won’t help strengthen relationships.
By “mature communication” I mean the ability to speak honestly, without using emotionally charged terms, overstatement, harmful exaggeration, or other verbal slings and arrows. It also means listening to what is being said and seeking first to understand, and only then to reply.
The No. 3 tool for maintaining good relationships is respectful restraint. This might be the best defensive weapon we have in the “getting along” game.
“Respectful restraint” just means having enough respect for you fellow men and women not to jump to negative conclusions, not to believe the gossip and rumors, and not to allow anger and spite to rise up in your heart until you actually have all the facts.
Don’t be so quick to go negative, and don’t give audience to those around you who feed on chaos and the trials and failures of others.
However, even when expectations are reasonable and known, and communication is operating at a beneficial level, and we show reasonable restraint, we can hurt one another. This brings us to essential No. 4: authentic forgiveness.
You notice once again I prefer to qualify the term. Forgiveness has fallen on hard times. It is too often verbalized without being internalized. We say “you’re forgiven” but we carefully horde a significant amount of bitterness because we are angry.
Bitterness is the residue of wrongs suffered that we store up to feel good about acting badly. We assume we deserve to act out, to stubbornly refuse any attempt to re-establish relationship.
We put people into boxes from which there is no escape, and we do it so often we need a spreadsheet to remember who we can still call a friend.
Authentic forgiveness tears up the spreadsheet and alleviates the need to store up bitterness. Authentic forgiveness also is fueled by the fact that we all will need piles of forgiveness as well.
Can we all just get along? Probably not as long as we live in a broken world, with broken people like you and me. We are naturally predisposed to selfishness, anger, reprisal and isolation.
But we also are predisposed to live in community, in relationships whose harmony increases the beauty of life itself. So it is worth the effort to be a “low-maintenance friend,” a person who is faithful to listen, love, learn – and forgive – to surround yourself with those who can live life with you, regardless of the bumps in the road.
They are called friends, and we all need as many good ones as we can find.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. Ethically Speaking runs Saturdays in The Signal.