How many times have you uttered this phrase “I’ll show him (her, them)” when someone offends you? It comes pretty naturally to most of us. Someone ticks us off, shows us disrespect, cuts us off on the road, and the first reaction is “How dare he?”
I visited a church in New Castle, PA early last winter, and I am glad that I braved the falling snow and icy roads to get there. Pastor Chad had a timely message. He talked about offense (being offended) and the way this makes us feel about ourselves and about those who offend us. One of the things I see as most detrimental to how people perceive Christians is when we retaliate against those who offend us. It can be the most minor thing; maybe someone cut me off at an intersection, maybe someone at work “threw me under the bus” in a sales situation and made me look bad, or maybe it was just an off-handed remark in a group setting that angered me.
But the first reaction is to think “retaliate”, and the phrase that gets tossed about so much these days is “don’t get mad, get even”. But getting even requires getting mad. And the things we do to get even may be worse than the original offense to us.
It’s especially hard in a professional setting to have a situation like this arise knowing that the Gospel calls us to be humble and to be peacemakers. We often walk a fine line between making sure that we are recognized for our achievements, and stepping on bodies to get there.
How angry do you get when you don’t get credit for an original idea or maybe you weren’t as cutthroat as one of your colleagues in a certain competitive situation? The boss likes the other guy, and you are made to feel as though there is something wrong with the way you handled things. But even when you are in “closing mode”, and trying your hardest to get a customer to sign a contract, there’s always a fine line between “assertive” and “aggressive”.
So how do we keep a balance between what is expected of us to succeed, and what is unnecessary and “over the top” behavior? Jesus’ preaching on the Beatitudes gives us a good model for restraint:
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
But before you think that I am promoting a totally submissive view that is not practical in the workplace, remember that Jesus followed the Beatitudes with what are (not so commonly) known as the “Similitudes”
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
And this is where we pick up with handling those “under the bus” situations. We can still stand up for what is right. We can defend our position with assertiveness (“saltiness”?) and clarity (“lamp”?), without an attitude of anger or retaliation. It’s often the attitude that we take, that formulates the words that we use, and that can change a situation for the better. Reflective listening and open-ended questions, can often draw out the antagonist in a situation, to defuse it, and turn things around.
So by stopping for a moment to think through your reaction to any given situation, review the Beatitudes (to be humble), then remember the Similitudes (to be bold), and let God’s Words guide you through…