Is It True? Is It Kind? Will It Help?

The Prairie Star District Board met last weekend at the UU Church of Minnetonka in Wayzata MN, a western suburb of Minneapolis. Mounted above the office door of the Minister, Kent Hemmen Saleska, was a sign that read: “Is it true? Is it kind? Will it help?” Great questions, as far as I’m concerned.

Recently I’ve been consulting with leaders of several congregations about the conflict the congregations are experiencing. After listening to stories of the way people interact, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be helpful if people asked themselves those three questions before they opened their mouths?” Is it true? Is it kind? Will it help?

Is it true? Well, it may be true as far as you are concerned, but are you sure others would agree? There are certainly different opinions about “the truth.” Is it true that “the minister sure doesn’t care about us old ones because he spends all his time working on that new Celebration service” ? ***   I think it takes a leap in logic to make that assumption. Don’t be so sure you know the truth — or at least, the whole truth — until you’ve talked this out with the person from whom you’re feeling estranged.

Next scenario: Well, yes, it’s true — but is it kind? Just because something is true doesn’t mean that talking about it is kind. It may be true that the religious education director’s teenaged son came to church in dirty jeans and raggedy sneakers, but is it kind to mention it? What is your point?

Next scenario: Well, no, I know it’s not kind, but I feel like saying it anyway [Read: “I’m feeling snarky!”]  Then ask yourself, will it help? Will it help, or will it make the situation worse? Will it help to bring you closer to the person you’re feeling cranky about? Or if you’re tempted to mention it to a third person, is it really an attempt to enlist another person onto your side? Is it triangulation? At a deeper level, how will this comment help us to get beyond our discomfort and start the road to mending our relationship? And if it won’t, why am I tempted to say it? Is there something else I could say, or should I, perhaps, just hold my tongue? And look for a better way to address my concerns, when I’m ready to approach the person, in an attitude of humility and forgiveness, seeking understanding and reconciliation.

Is it true? Is it kind? Will it help? Three excellent questions that I’m going to try to keep in mind, as I go about my life and my work, in the days and weeks ahead.

***[from the “Anxious Congregation” DVD, Healthy Congregations workshop, by Peter Steinke]

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4 Responses to “Is It True? Is It Kind? Will It Help?”

  1. John Blevins Says:

    Thanks Nancy.
    Simple and effective. I like the questions, and your commentary.

    John

  2. nheege Says:

    Thanks, John. Yes, it’s simple, but for many people, it’s hard to approach people we’re feeling estranged from. But if we don’t practice that, how can we hope to improve?

  3. Kathy Burek Says:

    Nancy,

    I enjoyed your comments on these three elegant questions. They remind me of the writings of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in “Words That Hurt, Words that Heal”. He encourages readers to ask a similar set of questions before saying anything: “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it fair?”

    Telushkin also proposed a national “Speak No Evil Day”, where for 24 hours, we try to go without saying anything untrue or unkind about anyone. It’s harder than it seems, since it would apply to the sarcastic comments we all like to make about political leaders as well as the negative comments we make when gossiping about people we know.

    Kathy

  4. nheege Says:

    Yes, Kathy. It’s not easy, but certainly worthy of valiant effort.

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