Will the new proverb cast out more fear?

Some people lead by ethics and example, others by the rule of law; within the latter, the unethical will always find loopholes for exploration and exploitation. Only the ethical create cultures of trust and confidence.
— Peter E. Greulich, former IBM executive.

Sometimes I wonder if we care so much about “healthy conflict” that we develop a fear of unhealthy conflict. Maybe we are actually getting good at avoiding conflict rather than having it! Maybe more fear needs to be cast out by God’s love. More terrible if true, I also wonder if the zeitgeist of the day: more law, less love, more division less togetherness, has formed some instincts among us. In that case love will have some heavy lifting to do.

Last week (like almost every week) we had a relational “issue” among our leadership team. Someone did something wrong—someone is usually going to do something wrong, either objectively or in the eyes of the beholder. Someone is going to forget the agreement we have or ignore the most recent policy or procedure. It would not be a huge surprise if someone was so far out of order that others felt awkward about even talking to them about what happened! It is embarrassing to bring up something conflictive—there might be an argument; there might even be a need for discipline! All that happened. What to do?!

When issues arise, some people turn to law rather than love (or to ethics, like Greulich put it above). Last week (like almost every week) someone reacted to a “dangerous” situation with “lawmaking.” I brought up this instinct at the Wise Ones meeting last Thursday as we were inspecting the proverbs for our forming Map. I wondered why it is not unusual for someone to react to a relational problem by trying to shore up our institutional defenses against it. I think some people blame the system for all the wrong someone does—like if you did not show up to host the meeting, there needs to be better host training, or automatic reminders sent out by a robot. Worse, they might use the system, if they have the power, to deal with/thwart/even punish a wrongdoer before anyone even has a personal problem!—you let your mission team go dormant and you find out that they have a new policy about dormant mission teams. It seems to me that there is less respect for the age-old (and Biblical) practice of exploring what happened, listening, seeing if there is anything wrong going on, and having a forgiving and possibly corrective conversation before any policy tweaking gets started.

I experience this tweaking reaction so much that people worked with me until we came up with a new proverb about it:

Don’t look for a new rule to solve a relational problem or a policy adjustment to produce integrity.

Please don’t immediately read this the wrong way. Rules are fine; they are just agreements that have become standard. Policies need to exist and need to be adjustable; we are always finding better ways to do things because we don’t really completely know what we are doing (“best practices” notwithstanding). The new proverb is not advocating doing business in a sloppy way; we have a lot of “business” we want to do!

What it will remind us about is the fearful way we can hide behind our system and try to make it do what only a loving human can do: listen, confront, care, reform, forgive and develop. We desperately need one another. When leaders, especially, change a rule instead of changing a life, or they adjust a policy to control the maladjusted, it is sinful. It is an abuse of the power they are given to transform and not deform.

I think our dialogue about this last Thursday was a great example of the forming we can do when we relate freely, ruled by Jesus. We had an open, uncontrollable dialogue about our proverbs and we easily went through our two hours without fighting. Much to the contrary, I found the time to be full of joy, empathy and healthy conflict. It was rather disorderly and without clear policies and yet we managed to speak the truth in love just fine. We ended up OK about not finishing every possible piece of work we could imagine. We had to be OK with how we were listened to. And I think we were OK with our own inadequacies of various kinds. It was my kind of best practice! And I think the resulting new proverb (among many other improvements to our lore) might serve us well, over time.

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