cairns me home

being still in God's big world

Category: 2014 (page 2 of 2)

Responding in love

To paraphrase Madonna: It’s a digital world and I am a [reluctant] digital girl.


We’ve all gotten it: the email that unravels all your awesome (if you do say so yourself) plans. You send a simple request to someone and they email back explaining all the reasons what you need is not possible. Or you get an unsolicited bit of advice or feedback that hits every nerve in your body. Or you send a bit of feedback only to receive an email in return that is laden with hurt feelings and accusations. As our world continues to turn more and more to impersonal, digital communication methods it becomes easier to lose sight of feelings and emotions when we communicate with a quick click, click, click… send.

But human beings haven’t changed. We are still emotional beings who take pride in our work and try (I hope) to do our best to respect the dignity of others in our communications. So this turn to cold, digital communication is sometimes at odds with our communication needs as individuals. Some personality types are better suited to digital communication than others. But on the whole, we lose something when we communicate as though it is entirely mechanical instead of personal.

So, how do we respond in love while still maintaining appropriate boundaries and professionalism?

Here are my quick and dirty email communication rules that I try to follow:

1. Take a breath or, better yet, several. Just because email means instant communication is possible, it doesn’t mean instant communication is necessary. With smart phones, tablets, and wifi galore we’ve become a society that expects instantaneous answers to all of life’s questions. Just because there might be an expectation that we respond immediately it does not mean it is required. Take 24 hours before responding to any email, that is not time sensitive, that is upsetting or inflammatory. If you think that window might further damage the relationship, a simple response that tells the sender you received her/his correspondence and will respond soon can sometimes defuse the situation temporarily.

2. Take it off line. Email is best employed for matter-of-fact, short communications. Once hurt feelings get involved the situation can escalate quickly. Offer to meet in person or by telephone if the correspondence has taken a turn towards hurt feelings.

3. Walk a mile. If you thought the thing you were requesting was simple yet the response you got was complicated, rather than further explaining why your request is really simple – look at it from their perspective. What are the values involved? What other factors are in play?

4. Get an outside perspective. If you really cannot settle down or see the reasoning in the correspondence, ask an unbiased person to weigh in. Sometimes this might be to validate what you are experiencing, a lot of the time this might be to objectively consider both sides.

5. Remember the Christ that is in them. It is really easy to play the “I’m right, they’re wrong” game with email. You don’t have to look the other person in the eye when you are communicating and “hearing” their words. I find it is always best for me to assume the best motives and remember that at the bottom of it all the person with whom I am communicating was created in God’s image. This is both the hardest and easiest step. If loving everybody was easy, we’d live in a much more peaceful world.

It’s only after I’ve completed the above five steps that I am able to respond to difficult emails with love. Sometimes I do respond before I’ve participated in these steps and sometimes I luck out and do a good job. Most of the time, though, a quick response leads to hurt feelings and a much longer and more arduous communication than was necessary.

A gift of great value

A few weeks ago one of my parishioners emailed me the following story from his commute. With his permission I share it with you now:

Today as I was on the subway coming back from Quincy to my office in Back Bay I was riding the Orange line.  A man who was learning impaired approached me and asked if I had any spare change.  At first I nodded no; he then offered me a gift which was a piece of paper 18”x24” rolled up with an elastic band (he had a handful of them). I declined, but offered him a dollar instead and he was grateful.  He proceeded down the subway car, approaching others and got pretty much the same initial response of the nod, except most looked around to see if anyone else was looking to try to get a mutual smirk, evil smile or an eye roll.   I got so frustrated with myself for not doing more; he wanted to give me something.
He worked his way back to me, and this time I was ready with another dollar bill; I wanted what he was handing out.  So I handed him another dollar and he handed me the gift.  He proceeded to offer me a second one, and I declined (much more politely than last time).  He was probably in his mid 50’s and told me he had been drawing since he was 8 years old.  I told him that I would open it when I got back to work.  He proceeded on, and continued to get the same negative responses.  The suspense was killing me, what was in the rolled up paper, and what was his drawing?  I took off the rubber band and unrolled it and saw what he had drawn.


I went back into my wallet and pulled out a five dollar bill, and said “here; this is worth way more than two dollars”.  He again offered me a second one and I declined and told him that he needed to keep them so he could give them to other people.  It turns out, according to him, that they are all the same picture.  He then sat down next to me on the subway and smiled a lot and introduced himself to me, and told me that he had worked so hard on those drawings in his art class today.  I chuckled to myself because others kept throwing me a glance, some were a friendly smile and others were something more of a look of disgust as if to say “better you than me” and if so they were right.
I practically skipped off the subway.
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