I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. As appealing as the prospect of losing a few pounds, flossing daily, or finally catching up on my scrapbooking might be, I find my typical New Year’s resolutions are too easily made and too easily broken. Nothing like reaching the end of January and already feeling like a loser!
Besides, New Year’s resolutions are theologically dangerous. Making New Year’s resolutions implies that I decide to do something for my own benefit and that I will accomplish said resolutions by my own effort. They don’t leave much room for the conviction, inspiration, and assistance of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps that is why January resolutions are a one-and-done sort of thing. How naive (or sinful?) of me to believe that I can do anything through my own willpower.
Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I propose engaging or re-engaging in the slow, steady, grace-filled process of sanctification. Sanctification is a fancy, theological word for the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. How can I be soaked by the Holy Spirit so that I am becoming more like Jesus? Bit by bit; day by day.
In conflict transformation work, we pay a lot of attention to conversation. We listen very carefully to what people say and how people say it. We observe faces, eyes, and body language to gauge the tenor of what is being said. We note how often a person returns to a particular theme or repeats what has already been said. We may even write down a statement word-for-word because what the person has said (and the way that they have said it) is so revealing.
We conflict transformation practitioners constantly monitor our own speech and attitudes, too. We strive, through God’s grace, to speak carefully and kindly. We try to be aware of our tender spots and our triggers. We hope to be as neutral as we can, knowing that it is not really possible for a human being to be 100% objective.
Much divine assistance is required to do conflict transformation work well! The words that come out of our mouths reflect that state of our hearts. Are we at peace in our own hearts as we try to help folks navigate conflict? Can we bracket our own concerns and anxieties in order to hear another truly?
Today I offer a tip for the new year that just might transform your communication. The tip is surprisingly simple and surprisingly difficult: replace “but” with “and.”
Say what? When I link two statements with “but,” I am replacing what you have said with what I say. Effectively, I have just negated what you have said in favor of my own opinion, observation, or suggestion. If I replace “but” with “and”, my response will immediately sound more collaborative and less oppositional. The effect is subtle, but (and!) it is real.
Replacing “but” with “and” is unexpectedly hard. Hard because of years of habit and hard because changing a word changes the heart. “And” means that your experience, opinion, or observation is as important as mine. “And” indicates that I have heard you and that I care about what you have said. “And” holds together while “but” drives apart.
Holding things together is what Jesus does (Colossians 1:17). Changing the heart is the work of the Holy Spirit. With God’s sanctifying grace, the change happens day by day. Bit by bit. One word at a time.