Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
We actually got snow last week, followed by a legitimate deep freeze day! In Delaware, that combination is about as rare as a three legged unicorn. Many around here reached for sleds, but a few of us actually got to grab our dusty cross country skis from the closet. For 2-3 days, we finally had a chance to gloriously glide through our local park. The nice thing about northern Delaware is that even though there are few cross country skiers, we all pretty much go the same parks when the conditions are right. That creates some wonderfully tracked trails. This is an enormous benefit to nordic skiers. Trails with set ski tracks = better skiing. It was delightful to follow those long lines in the snow for several miles.
Later that day, I saw a cross country skiing related post on social media. Someone had posted a picture on one of the local hiking pages showing snowy trail with ski tracks and hiking tracks. It had a gentle announcement:
Hikers take note! Many of us are loving the chance to get out and cross country ski on our trails. Normally we have to drive really far to find decent conditions. I know many people aren't familiar with these tracks since the conditions are rarely good for skiing. If you happen to see tracks like this, please try to avoid hiking on top of them because that makes it difficult and dangerous to ski when they freeze over. Up north this is a major no-no. Down here many people just don't know about ski etiquette whether it's a hiking or a ski trail. Usually there's plenty of space to walk right alongside them. Thank you!
Underneath the post, a bunch of comments started popping up:
"Good to know. I've never come across ski tracks before."
"Didn't know that. I'm guilty! Won't happen again."
"Great days to be skiing!"
"You learn something new everyday!"
"Might have inadvertently done that!"
There were other comments too. (I mean, it IS social media.... the spawn of satan)
"Well you ARE skiing on a HIKING trail."
"I'm allowed to walk on public land."
"As soon as I see a 'ski only' sign posted I'll be happy to find another trail."
Delightful. But honestly, those comments kept getting eclipsed with other, positive responses. Keep in mind this was a hiking page, not a skiing page. Yet most folks were happy to learn and eager to respond in the same gracious tone as the original poster.
I thought about the way we approach things we feel are inconsiderate or unkind. It made me come back to something I've learned about the way of Jesus.
The method is the message.
The way we address the people and issues we are addressing is as crucial to our integrity (and effectiveness) as the message we plan to offer.
I shared this past Sunday about how Jesus instructs us not to respond to aggression with aggression, but to find other ways to transform evil and ugliness... through the power of suffering love. Paul reiterates the Jesus way during an incredible section in Romans 12. Overcome evil with good. (Note: hiking over ski tracks is not evil. Stop taking my metaphors too far).
But relating to others the Jesus way includes more than just how we respond to conflict. It includes how we initiate things that could lead to conflict.
That guy could have written his post like this:
"What kind of idiot hiker thinks it's cool to destroy our ski tracks? Selfish a%$&#@s! Go find a snow cave to sleep in, you underdeveloped neanderthals! Have some respect."
My hunch is that it wouldn't have landed quite as well, you know?
There is great power in making gracious assumptions. It helps us assume the best about others' intentions as the starting point. It sets the stage for meaningful communication and mutual respect. And it keeps our integrity intact, even if others choose not to rise to that same spirit.
I found it illuminating that in my example, most folks were completely unaware of how their actions impacted others. They just didn’t know. That’s the point. When we assume the worst about people's motives, we shut the door to help each other change. But when we make gracious assumptions and offer the same grace to others as God has offered to us, we may find ourselves with far less adversaries and a few new partners.
Jesus, help me assume the best in others today and walk in kindness.