Our perceptions of the intent of others defines our ability to defuse situations. If we assume others are not out to get us – that they care and want the best for us – our answers will be geared more to mistake or misunderstanding, neither of which are fighting words…
1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
Proverbs 15:1, 18
Which one are you? Are you the gentle tongue or the harsh tongue? Do you stir up the conflict or calm the quarrel? When Lucy and I went through our pre-marital counselling before getting married, the Pastor asked us to fill in a questionnaire which asked, among other things, what traits or qualities we were bringing into the marriage.
One of Lucy’s answers was ‘a gentle and calming spirit.’ We have laughed about that answer many times in our 24 years of marriage. Lucy is one half Italian, and there have been many times when that half of her personality was anything but gentle and calming.
We have learned to calm each other when we see the other person getting caught up in the moment. That’s hard to do in marital conflict, but you also learn to enjoy spice when you marry a half-Italian. Her Belgian side would be more likely to calm the quarrels…
Our make-up influences our expression, doesn’t it? Genetics and nationality, however, do not rule our dispositions: we have choices to make in whether we let our tempers get the best of us and whether we let our situations get out of control.
I have found that our perceptions about the intent of the other person can be a defining factor in our ability to defuse situations. If we believe that others have poor intentions and are out to harm us, our backs will be high and our dukes will be up. That’s a recipe for relationship disaster isn’t it?
Yet if we assume that the other person is not out to get us – that they actually care about us and want the best for us – our answers will be guided by the principle that the offense I feel is more of a mistake or a misunderstanding. We forgive mistakes and we clarify misunderstandings. Neither are fighting words.
Think about your gentle answers and quarrel calming.
Is there something you can do in the reading of intent and the benefit of the intent-doubt that will change your relationships with others today?