I once worked on a staff where nobody wanted to be evaluated. The angst over this possibility was so thick it was palpable. I was intrigued by this. It wasn’t obvious to me that any of these people weren’t doing their jobs and or would be placed in any great jeopardy by a fair and thorough going review. So, what was going on?
What was going on, I suppose, was a deficit of trust. Unless I’m confident you have my best interest at heart, it will be very hard for me to open myself to your critique.
I’ve been thinking a lot about covenant lately. I’ve known for a very long time that we talk a lot about covenant in the United Church of Christ and that a lot of our talk is empty. In our hearts we are autonomy people who are bright enough to know that autonomy is a theologically bankrupt construct. Being people who love words, we cover our anxiety with a surfeit of words – words about community and interconnection and – yes – covenant. But when the chips are down, we – many of us – reflexively hunker down alone. And we’ve come to be so practiced at this that it doesn’t even feel abnormal most of the time.
But it is. At least it’s abnormal if one fancies oneself a Gospel-type person. For the New Testament is nothing if not a communitarian and covenant-type story.
I’ve been told that more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar. I’m not sure my goal here is to catch flies, but I’m guessing that the aphorism is recommending alluring enticement over stony reprimand. Are there any alluring reasons to open oneself to genuine review? Or what I’m really asking, I suppose, is whether it makes any sense to take the risk of being accountable?
I think there are several, but I’m going to name just one. The risky choice to be transparently accountable diminishes fear. Fear has many origins and manifests itself in many ways. I’m convinced that some fear starts with the suspicion that if you REALLY knew me, you would certainly dislike me. There being few folk who really like being disliked (!!), we begin to learn at an early age to cloak what’s really going on. We hide what we really think. We camouflage what really makes us tick. And the longer I stay opaque the harder it becomes to do anything else. I lose the skill for transparency. And fear starts becoming a settled state of affairs….”what if they really knew?” Eventually we lose awareness of what we’re doing – it becomes instinctive to be hidden.
I know next to nothing about the pop singer Jewell, but some months ago she was interviewed by Time Magazine. The interviewer observed that her songs are unusually transparent and wondered whether that didn’t make her vulnerable. Her response was simple and stunning: “It’s counterintuitive that the more transparent you are, the safer you are. “
That’s exactly what I’ve learned. Counterintuitive? I suppose. But powerfully true.
I long to be part of a community of real people (meaning imperfect people) who trust each other enough to be honestly vulnerable with each other. My bet is that I’m not the only one. Might your congregation become that community? I wonder who might show up if it did? We might all be surprised!
In risky hope!
UCC in Iowa