June 15, 2015

Clearing the Air

A few days ago I had received a somewhat awkward phone call. I volunteer with an organization that advocates for policies and practices to curb climate change, and a colleague from the subcommittee I serve on sent an email out about a new initiative we were about to launch. Except that someone else on a different committee had already begun work on this initiative. So she called me.

“Tell me if this sounds petty, but I think it’s just better to clear the air,” she said. In reality, it was a small mistake, but an oversight nonetheless. She’d been working hard and our email completely ignored, and in her view, undermined her work.

I can’t say that I enjoyed the phone call, but I appreciated it. She could have sent me an email, but striking the right tone of that kind of message in an email is nearly impossible. Or she could have said nothing, which might have been worse.

There are times when we should just let things go, of course. Sometimes the things that bother us are just about our own hang-ups. But there are other times when it’s important to clear the air. Yes, sometimes our grievances are small, but it’s better to acknowledge them and be honest with ourselves than pretend that we can just ignore our hurt feelings or anger.

Of course, this only works if we have some perspective. The person who called me knew it was a small thing in the grand scheme of climate change, but she also knew that it bothered her. So we talked it through. Now we can move forward, I hope, and work jointly and with respect for all the hard work everyone is doing.

Creating a culture where people are not holding grudges without getting involved in petty grievances is not easy. Leadership can help model this by having these difficult conversations with each other and other members of the congregation when necessary. They can encourage parishioners and staff to be careful with how they use their email correspondence or checking in regularly about problems big and small.

In the church, we all basically have the same goal: to love and serve the world. Our common goal doesn’t mean we won’t sometimes hurt each other or feel angry and frustrated. But our community rests on a foundation of love and respect for each other. If we keep this in mind, then it’s a little easier to clear the air.