How do we respond when another judges us harshly or unfairly? There are at least three possible responses. First, we can say nothing, keeping our unhappiness and resentment toward the other person to ourselves. Second, we can lash out at the other, attacking them for their unfairness or harshness. Third, we can try, gently and without rancor, to explain to the other why their judgment was unjustified.
In the episode that prompts this post, I was the person making the harsh judgment. The specifics are not important. Suffice it to say that someone was doing some work for me and, in a moment of frustration and impatience, I sent the person an e-mail that expressed dissatisfaction with how things were going.
In this particular case, lashing out at me was not a likely option. But the person could have said nothing to me. He could have sat feeling sorry for himself, silently thinking (or perhaps sharing with his friends or family) what a jerk I was and how unfairly he had been treated. Instead, what he did was to write me a long e-mail. He recognized that if my judgment were indeed that his performance had been faulty, he would accept that, but explained, thoughtfully and reasonably, why he did not think the judgment was justified. There was no harshness in anything he said. It was an honest attempt to assess the situation and see how we might move on from there.
The difference in the three approaches is obvious. Silent resentment effectively ends the relationship, closing off any possibility for growth and reconciliation. I sit in my judgment, he sits in his feeling that he has been treated unfairly, and the relationship can go nowhere. Lashing out is always doomed to failure. It only invites defensiveness. Whatever wrong may have been committed by the person making the unfair or harsh judgment, the person will be unable to see it while under attack.
The third approach is the only one that allows growth. In this case, I sat and read the e-mail in the same spirit in which it was written. Because I wasn’t feeling attacked, I could hear what was being said. And I could see where I had been harsh and unfair in my judgment and could accept the correction. This is an approach that allows healing, that fosters, rather than kills, relationship.
My dominant reaction is one of gratitude for the model provided by the person in my encounter. And I pray for the grace to respond in the same loving manner the next time I feel that I have been misjudged.