Light or Shadow? Four questions I ask myself before offering counsel.

January 29, 2012
By

light shadowWisdom is a precious commodity.  We must cherish it, carry it with humility and security, and offer it to others only through graceful, thoughtful exchanges that honor our spiritual essence.

In my last blog entry, I discussed our lack of tolerance, and our habit of rudely imposing our opinions on others.  We often use the phrase “Do you mind if I say something?” as a pathway for that imposition.

I believe we should use more tact, wisdom and grace as we speak into each other’s lives.  Over the years, I have developed four questions that I try to ask myself before I attempt to speak into someone’s life (and that I consider in reverse when approached with offers of advice):

  1. Have I earned my voice?  Have I shown this person how much I respect them and care for them?  Have I honored their opinion or role?  Have I shown them any random acts of kindness or extraordinary courtesy, sympathy or care?  Have I invested in them?
  2. How much does this weigh?  What is the weight of the responsibility of this attempt to effect change?  Years ago, there was a person in my community who felt it her right and duty to counsel EVERYBODY.  She felt she had the best insights about everything from their choice of apartment to their diet, from how they spent their free time to whom they married, etc., etc., etc.  I always wondered how she managed to carry the weight of all that responsibility.  Hear this: with control comes liability.
  3. Is this light or shadow?  We each have a light and a shadow.  The light beams from us with pride and pleases even Self as it is reflected on those around.  Our shadow, on the other-hand, is cast upon those around us, and displeases even Self when it is seen.  Often times, that which we want to change in another is really what we need to change in Self.  Allowing misunderstanding here to inform action will always lead to shame and unhealth.
  4. Is this help or intolerance?  Is this truly something that I cannot simply accept as one of the six-billion, eight-hundred-and-forty-million, five-hundred-and-seven-thousand other people on this planet?

Ask first.  Preach later.

9 Responses to Light or Shadow? Four questions I ask myself before offering counsel.

  1. Carla Friedrich
    January 29, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Nathaniel, Thank-you for adding me to the list of those who receive your incredible blog posts. They’re so universal and also well written (well thought out, sensitive, and showing the depth of your own process and self-reflections)

    I am responding by “comment” – even though I think this is too long and somewhat inappropriate to respond to a blog with a blog-like response! I say, you struck a raw nerve with someone who is self-examining how much is said or done and in what kind of time-frame which may be over and against versus good for someone or a situation. But, you know you’re doing an excellent job, when you get people thinking and reflecting THIS much!!!

    As one who is often supposed to step in and out of the role of pastor, parent, colleague, or friend and mind boundaries very carefully, these blog posts on “speaking into someone’s life” have really struck a raw nerve. Your last two reflections remind me of a saying I am fond of: “Truth without love is condemnation; Love without truth is a suffocating oppression.” (Paraphrasing the philosopher Swedenborg)

    One of the things that strikes me as a nuance of your 1,2,3 and 4 as a good rule of thumb when speaking into someone’s life is a quality I am very keen on – Freedom.

    A favorite saying for me is “Heaven, renewal, change, growth, lasting transformation, even a person’s faith is always, and only, created in the sphere of freedom.” (para- phrasing Swedenborg again)

    What I mean is that I’ve noticed, that growth and change only last or hold or ever truly take place only when affected or created in a state of freedom of will and choice- making (discernment). In other words, the best commentary or advice or motivating is done by invitation, and not a truth – telling event and thus never by force or coercion. Interventions are never accomplished by placing blame.

    Everything we force in un-timely ways or by being over and against without recognizing distinctions, differences, or boundaries and what is essentially the other person’s or group’s own core affection on the matter, ultimately dies (or kills). In other words, “words of life” never destroy a person’s affections or central love – rather words of life build, up, inspire, naturally enlighten, and transform. In-fact, they then feel like the persons very own idea. Classic education.

    “God, who is Life itself never destroys or breaks a person’s will, but bends and guides toward good ends.” Neither should we. On the contrary, urban cameras often reveal riots are started when someone points a finger in or pushes into someone else’s face or chest (heart – center.) This violence to a persons will and live can be symbolic or done metaphorically as well. When we intrude into another’s sphere of freedom (boundaries) to effect the change we think we need to see happen, that change we wish to see actually never takes place.

    So, the question needs to be asked, what do we really want, what is the desired outcome in the matter, because the end purpose, and the means need to all be in accord, in a kind of healing wholeness. When I reflect honestly with myself, I often have to admit what part or extent of what I would like to say or do is really about me and not the other person and ultimately reframes how I say something or if I say anything at all, or what action I will take.

    Perhaps when we speak “out of turn” we may lack inherent trust in the Divine Providence that governing their life, all of our lives. If we intrude by forcing an issue too soon, or without acknowledging the other person’s divinely ordained agency of choice and connection to the divine and their companioning inner voice, and thus their inherent ability to be led and guided (“only God saves”) we can be sure it is not from light but from shadow.

    Another useful template I prefer as a guideline is this: “A person’s love is their life.” If we truth tell while at the same time destroying a person’s love, passion, affection for something, we are actually simultaneously stealing and killing. We need to allow people to feel and live their own life. Only then, do things come to fruitful good ends. Because inside everyone’s false notions, however far afield they may be, is also their will to live.

    If I over-advocate for a person’s life, especially to that person, if force my own ways of specificity for handling a decision, project, a resolution to a problem, any matter, it ends up being over and against that person’ s will and revokes their divinely granted license to co-create with their Maker. It’s about my having control and love of dominion.

    I think a Sphere of Innocence is also important as we speak into another persons life, and by that I mean a willingness to remain teachable (humility) which is also a willingness to be led by what is good and true. We also self- serve if we imagine we can see all aspects of the person’s internals, or all aspects of the situation, because self- service tends toward being one dimensional and not guided by nor is it really seeking any kind of healing wholeness, but rather has some other end purpose at heart. Can you tell me it irritates me when I, myself, or someone just says what ever they think needs to be said?? It grieves me when I miss-speak. I am of a mind, that a wise person/ parent, etc never says all they know or all that they see.

    “The One who granted voice, also grants the authority to speak.” This adage shares the same principle with your blog that speaking also implies listening, to the other’s voice, albeit as yet unspoken/ unarticulated, especially if squashed and pre-empted, suppressed, or un-welcomed by being overly critical, threat of punishment or abandonment. This is why forgiveness is so important, even a radical kind of forgiveness (in the moment) where we resolve to stay in relationship and heal, no matter the disappointments and hurts, knowing and trusting that in the end good will come, and growth will happen, and life will flourish.

    These things are so subtle and perhaps you notice them too as you strive to raise your children, leading them to goodness and productivity in life as you also empower them toward autonomy while also striking that balance between knowing better and keeping them safe – and even legal as they sometimes are want to be foolish and get into trouble!

    YOU are succinct and wise, I am wordy and long-winded, so I thank you for the opportunity to be part of the conversation

    Thank you for your charitable work and keep up the good work! We’re so grateful for you!

    • March 15, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      Carla, Wow! Thank you. I’m delighted by your words of wisdom. And Nathaniel, I read your blog all the time. I don’t always reply.

  2. January 29, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Thank you for this, Carla. Good thoughts and reflections here. I’m blessed.

  3. January 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Ahhh, the light and shadow side of our giftings. Good thoughts.

    • January 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      Lynne, so true. I find this verbiage really opens up understanding, and gives us “permission” to address the shadows. Things that lurk in shadows are unclear. Focus and energy are required to find them and address them. Blessings to you this Sunday!

  4. Tiki Inacay
    February 1, 2012 at 1:40 am

    A thought-provoking topic, which prompted much soul searching and reminiscent experience. Years ago, I taught at a Bible College in the Philippines. Although I was a woman (in her twenties at the time), in a third world country, I had 90 students in my class. 70 of them were men and the remaining 20 were women. The course was Homiletics, a required course for graduation. Many of the men in my class were already pastors of a church and much older than I. With resentment and complaint, they endured the course. On the first night of class I asked the students, “Who among you are ministers? If you are, please stand.” At that, most of ALL the men in the class stood and all the women remained seated. I then turned around and began to write on the board. With my back turned toward them, they remained standing for about 5 or 10 minutes. Then, I turned and asked, “Are you still standing? Let me explain what it means to be a minister. If you preach or teach in your congregations and every eye is dry, if you speak using long words with fancy phrases that nobody can understand, if hearts are not touched, and if lives are not changed, you have not ministered. You DON’T KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MINISTER. You can be seated.” On the board, I wrote these scriptures, “II Timothy 2:15 & 16, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.” At the beginning of each class, for the entire semester, they were required to recite these scriptures. Aside from preparing a sermon, I wanted to impart the wisdom of the responsibility their position and words held in the hearts of the people that listened to them. It is slothful and unethical to speak with out study. “Vain babblings” or speaking without accountability leads to “more ungodliness.” I also taught them that the sermon was merely a tool and was the least important part of their work. The greatest part of their message was not in the words that they spoke but in the power of the light of life giving spirit and in the compassionate reach of their hearts. The words are merely servants to the mastery of the matters of the heart. As articulated by Albert Einstein, “The intuitive mind is a scared gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant, we have created a society that honors the servant, but has forgotten the gift.” Words are neither light nor shadow. It is in the manner of how we use them that determines the light they shed or the shadows they cast. As spoken by Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    • February 1, 2012 at 3:27 am

      Tiki, This is such an important thought. Thank you so much. I very much appreciate the distinction between “pastor” and “minister” as defined herein. Holy hugs, –N

    • March 15, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      I was impressed with your words of wisdom.

      • March 15, 2014 at 12:19 pm

        Tiki, I was referring to your reply. Thanks!

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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