Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Don't Upset Anyone

When I told a friend, a few weeks ago, that I always found it difficult to start over in a new place in case I put my foot in it, he was quite reassuring. He explained that people needed to understand that the flip-side of employing a quick-witted and spontaneous personality (kind of him) had to be an acceptance of an occasional foray into insensitivity. In fact this same person used, as a matter of policy, to ask himself what the worst thing was he could possibly say in a given circumstance and then try to say it. And he was a very good parish priest. Remarkably good according to all who experienced him.

I stop short of that. I find, 'How's your wife, still dead?' probably best left unsaid. But how do we react to a remark we consider inappropriate? Is it possible we can learn to accept that people may not necessarily be meaning to be offensive when they say something so sharp it ends up being cutting?

The alternative is that our tables have no life and soul of the party people round them. And as we drink and we socialise we share occasional embarrassing silences whilst everyone considers their words carefully.

And therein lies madness. Our Archbishop (who I'm not calling mad don't get me wrong) seems to go to such extremes to get exactly the right set of words together for fear of upsetting anyone that I loved the suggestion I found here that a Valentine's card from him to Mrs W would say:

'I can just about envisage a situation in which, over a very long period, I might consider divorcing you, but I would need to see what the matrimonial reason for that would be. You haven't transformed or renewed my life in spectacular ways, but neither have you corrupted or ruined it.'

Which might be true but I guess would be very upsetting. I think I'll try it next February as a social experiment and see if I live.

Slow to anger brothers and sisters, slow to anger. Let the spontaneous freely spont without fear.


Matthew McMurray said...

I don't know what Mike will say about this but sometimes at College I have to say inappropriate things to students that potentially might offend in order to get the "real" conversation going. I suppose that it could backfire but it doesn't seem to have blown up in my face yet. Having said that, I am always aware that that approach takes a small amount of discernment.

Love the Rowan Williams card btw.

Caroline said...

I don't know Steve,

Maybe it's not fair that I can be spontaneous and risky in my member-of-the-crowd role at church

but as a minister? You have to offer a safe place for people to be fragile, and I'm not sure that tipping off the edge is going to help there.

But, you retort, aren't you also supposed to be available to be a safe place,

yes but, in early days, fragile people will look to the minister first. Maybe they shouldn't, but you won't be dealing with perfect people either.

it's all unfair but...

Caroline Too

Pam said...

The response needs to be dependent on the situation. If someone is making a comment or voicing an opinion that is clearly unGodly and unChristlike, then a vicar has the responsibility to point this out to them. I well remember a rector I know rebuking the PCC for its lack of Grace. The rebuke came as from the voice of God, completely justified and unchallengeable. If, however, someone is voicing an opinion that is simply different from your own, then button up and let it go.....

Dave Neal said...

Speaking of Rowan Williams - I trust people have seen this?