When I was updating the list of sermons I've preached, I noticed a pattern: Almost all of my talks have been about spiritual practices, some corporate but mostly personal ones like praying the Psalms, spending time in nature, or offering hospitality. But what about the latest sermon, Intervention: Risk, Folly, and Inner Healing? What personal spiritual practice is involved in the process of intervening in another's life?
I would like to nominate watching -- keeping watch over your intention, your tone of voice, and what that tone conveys about your intention. In his witty little book, Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners, Henry Alford dubs this sense of restrained caring "Evaluation without Litigation" and quizzes Project Runway's Tim Gunn about how to "make it work". I picked up these pointers from Henry and Tim:
- Know who you're criticizing -- both their background and their own intention.
- Talk only about things that the other person can change.
- Prioritize your concerns, expressing the bigger ones before sharing the tiny annoyances.
- Voice your concerns in a neutral tone.
#1 calls for empathy practiced not at the emotional level, but in the sense of being able to see the world from another person's point of view.
#4 suggests that you suspend any inclination to pass judgment and instead transmit a certain indifference to the outcome. Alford explains that this is part of Gunn's "Make it work!" mantra that the budding designers on the show hear every episode. Gunn told him:
I don't really care whether you 'like' your design or not. I want to know whether it's working or not, and how it can be made to work better. Like and dislike -- I don't want to sound disrespectful of either of those words, but they don't get you anywhere.
Here the inner watcher can help -- by keeping an eye on our ability to express such nonchalance and to deliver it in a non-anxious tone of voice. And this, in turn, can be a rare gift to the other person, making it possible for them to weigh your criticism or caution without fear of how it might affect you emotionally or impact your friendship.