A few years ago we caught my son stealing money from us. His older brother was the one who gave him away, and when confronted, he denied all wrongdoing while steadfastly avoiding eye contact.
I remember feeling almost gleeful as I prepared to have a conversation with him – knowing that this was one of those moments when what I said and how I responded could firmly impact how he developed as a teen and into an adult.
In other words, it was a parenting moment!
My husband and I spoke to our son about our core value of truthfulness, and owning up when we’d done something wrong. This was more important than the money, we said. Though stealing was also wrong. That in life, in order to trust each other, we needed to admit wrongdoing, and make it right. Then we could move on. And more than anything, he was profoundly loved. There were some short term consequences for him. Paying us back, of course, and restrictions of what he cared about at the time – likely video games.
My son shed tears. I know the conversation impacted him. Though it wasn’t the last conversation like this we’ve had with him – that would be the stuff of neat stories – it was the beginning of clear, compassionate expectation setting based on our values.
I’m writing from the United States this week, and we’ve been through another period of distress as rioters violently broke into the US Capitol building, resulting in the killing of multiple people, damage of property, and intimidation and disruption of our elected officials and the democratic process.
A vote of impeachment has been put forward against President Trump for inciting the violence and attempting to interfere with vote counts in Georgia, and many lawmakers (many of whom voted against certifying the electoral results that have been overwhelmingly held up by courts across the country) have called for unity, arguing that impeachment would further divide an already divided country.
I’ve been in a lot of relationships in my 40+ years.
Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother, Friend, Colleague, Boss.
I grew up in the midwest, and there was a value placed, especially on young women, to let things go for the sake of the whole. In other words – don’t make a stink.
I’ve struggled with this my life to date – particularly as a new manager. Letting things go that bothered me, only to face stressful situations that were the culmination of months of my inaction as a boss. Not saying something in the moment, and circling back to it a month later – making my employee feel blindsighted (“You’ve been thinking about this for a month? Why didn’t you tell me weeks ago?”).
Coincidentally, this is also important in marriage. Things that were let go and not discussed can come rushing back with intense emotion at the slightest perceived new injury.
I’m not talking about micromanaging every slight, or not doing the self-reflective work to understand our own role in any dynamic.
But I will say that there are moments, that if not addressed head on, with clear compassion and kindness and strong accountability, that will fester. And that festering will rot itself from the inside out and create toxicity that may or may not be salvageable.
We’re in a parenting moment for our country.
We can choose to have the hard conversations, always from a place of love and compassion, or we can choose to avoid further conflict.
The choice is ours to make.
Here’s where I stand:
- I condemn violence of all kinds, and words that incite violence, like those of President Trump. Violent words and deeds should be held accountable. True healing and unity are not possible without clear communication about the damage that has been done.
- Dehumanization fuels violence and should not be tolerated from any individual, political or organized group. Our neighbors and leaders in our community attended the protest that turned violent last week. Can we work to understand their pain and love them even as we hold those who spurred the violence accountable? Our neighbors and leaders in our community feel fear and fatigue right now, as they organized thousands of people to campaign for issues they care about, only to have the other side call the election (unfoundedly) unfair and stolen. Can we work to understand why they’ve organized, what they care about, and why they are tired and afraid? Critiques of behaviors of individuals and institutions can be done without broad demonization of individuals or groups of people. (ie – “Fill in the Blank is/are evil”)
- “Whataboutism” doesn’t work in a marriage, and it doesn’t work in any relationship. Words and behavior must be dealt with in the moment, judged within the context of any problematic patterns. Relative morality (“but what about when X did Y”?) or amassing a laundry list of grievances is unhealthy and dangerous.
- Faith fuels love. I don’t often talk about my faith in this space. It is the spark that fuels me, brings me back to my better sense of self, and keeps me grounded. It’s also why when President Trump forcefully removed a group of protestors using tear gas to hold a Bible upside down in front of a church I asked for divine help to turn my outrage into love – and ultimately had hundreds of conversations with people around the country in the weeks before the November election. When I hear that one of the violent rioters last week had a “Jesus Saves” sign inside the capitol and another was heard praying inside the building to remove the evil from Congress, with deep pain I ask my fellow people of faith to step up, condemn these acts that purport to speak on behalf of the God of love, and say with me the words of Dr. Martin Luther King “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
What does a compassionate and clear conversation look like?
Do you want tactical help to have conversations that are both clear, accountable and compassionate? I love the work of Kim Scott on this issue, and her book (often misunderstood) called Radical Candor. This is an excerpt from her blog post “Acting like a Jerk but not Caring Personally is a Radical Candor fail” that sums up the common ways we miss the mark in managing others or engaging in relationships:
- Radical Candor is kind, clear, specific and sincere.
- Obnoxious Aggression is what happens when you challenge someone directly, but don’t care about them personally.
- Ruinous Empathy is “nice” but ultimately unhelpful or even damaging. It’s what happens when you care about someone personally, but fail to challenge them directly.
- Manipulative Insincerity is praise that is non-specific and insincere, or criticism that is neither clear nor kind