Never Tell Someone They're Wrong

Tell them that you're hurt.

I wish people confronted me more often. As a writer, I say lots of things hoping to generate learning and understanding through lively discussion. I don't try to hurt anyone, but I do try to provoke. Unfortunately, sometimes the two go together. I only know this because someone told me.

A few months ago, I wrote about what I believed were some terrible reasons for becoming a Christian. One of those reasons was hope. And with my usual blanket-sized polemic, I generalized everyone in need of hope as a wishy-washy Christian running from difficulty rather than learning from it.

That's when I heard from the mom who had just lost her 7-year-old daughter to cancer. Admittedly, compassion was never my strong suit, but having a little girl of my own brought this lady's pain home for me. She was hurt and angry because, for years, she watched her precious one suffer and, for years, she hoped for a miracle--only to have it ripped away by the God she trusted.

I was the insult to her injury. The reckless, insensitive theology cowboy struck again and belittled her ragged cries for hope.

It doesn't matter that this was never my intention. I hurt someone by not being more considerate which, for the record, means anticipating others' needs not merely reacting to them. Of course, none of us can be truly considerate if we don't know what those needs are. Common sense can only go so far without communication.

Thus, I'm grateful for this mom and her hurting words. I'm grateful because she confronted me and because she is one of the few people I know willing to do so. We all need to learn from her and speak up.

Lots of folks probably think they're doing this already. Almost everyone on Facebook and Twitter is speaking up about something or at someone. Especially in the Christian community, there's plenty of "calling out" and "holding accountable" on social spaces. And most of the time, they're doing it wrong.

I have a number friends I can count on to correct me. They're the ones who see all the typos and fallacies in my writing and aren't afraid to point them out because they care about truth. For them, it isn't personal, it's logical.

However, the majority of the critique I receive is far from impersonal. Most of the time, it's accusatory and bitter and unable to demonstrate where I'm being illogical as much as where I'm being disagreeable. They simply don't like what I said. And their tone and exclamation points reveal why: I hurt them.

We are all products of deeply complex relationships and circumstances. In other words, we all have stories and we're all influenced them. Excluding the highly perceptive, these stories are private until we choose to communicate them. But our reactions to things that remind us of them rarely are.

When something touches on a painful moment in our story, we're prone to have a knee-jerk response. We lash out not to contribute to the discussion or even correct it but to derail the topic entirely. It's seen as a manifestation of our pain that needs to be buried along with all those involved who dared to bring it up.

Our hurt will eventually lead us all to say the same thing: you're wrong. Time and time again, discussions that have turned south will end here. Instead of learning and understanding, everyone is hurt and frustrated.

Telling someone they're wrong is not the same as telling them you're hurt. We use the former to hide the latter (that's also why we're more likely to lash out on social media than in person). But in so doing, we use our hurt to hurt others.

Think about how it's said. When we say that a person is wrong, we don't say it to persuade or build a case. We say it to end the conversation and end the words we no longer wish to hear (because we find them hurtful). And the reason it's effective in ending conversations is because it's a value statement.

Rather than say certain beliefs are incorrect and demonstrating why, we invalidate everything a person says by invalidating their very being. They're wrong. Or more accurately, now they're hurt and feel just like you.

Though many Christians will disagree, people are not innately right or wrong. We simply believe, say, or do the right or wrong things. Most normal people will agree with that, but Christians are weird. Because we see our beliefs tied to our eternal destinies, we tend to think that wrong beliefs make a person wrong because they're technically wrong before God (sin and all that noise).

To be clear, right or wrong requires a relationship. It means that a subject acted wrongly towards an object. Not only does this make us no less culpable before God (because we have a relationship with him), it means that a person cannot simply have done wrong without having done wrong to another person.

Being considerate depends on confrontation and feedback. But being confrontational doesn't mean being abrasive, it means being vulnerable. Correction should be about righting wrongs, not accusing someone of being wrong. Because most disagreements have less to do with what someone else said as much as how it made us feel.

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Read that mom's story here. And please help her pay off the medical debt she incurred.

Photo credit: Making a point via photopin (license)