Dear Members and Friends,
Before every session, I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it. This is what will allow his healing to begin.
-Carl Rogers, 20th century
The great humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers, is describing the basic bedrock understanding that informed his approach of unconditional positive regardtoward all of his patients. This is not just a good counseling approach, but it is also a marvelous expression of the truth of the Christian faith built on a bedrock of love for all people.
To remember my humanity is to place myself completely in the understanding of who Jesus is and what he is all about. The core understanding for Christianity about Jesus is that he is “God in the flesh.” This is not a means of spiritualizing human life, but rather of secularizing divinity! The radical reality of Jesus and of Christian belief is that God became human. There is not more precious reality, no more valuable treasure, than to be a human being. To be human is to be vulnerable. That is what God has done in Jesus. If God has taken that step, then it is enough to be human. The ultimate holiness is found in embracing my humanity.
If I can begin to embrace my humanity fully, and not keep striving to be something else than what God created me to be, then perhaps I can begin to embrace the humanity of those around me, with whom I live in the world, and with whom I interact on a daily basis. Perhaps if I can begin to embrace their humanity, then we can begin to find ways to better relate, interact, and share, without it being quite so contentious.
There is real power in love and simple human presence. We can learn to be a compassionate presence. We can sharpen our attention to others, learn to listen generously, and, as a result, become instruments of healing. We can learn to trust our good hearts to be reliable guides. We can become an environment of trust by providing genuine openness, acceptance and empathy.
Next time you find yourself facing a possible argument, instead of retreating behind your defenses and raising your own cannons to fire, here are some suggestions that might help defuse the situation and help you to approach the person with Jesus’ attitude of love, or Rogers’ attitude of unconditional positive regard.
- Prep your body: Create a calm facial expression and your brain will follow. Take a deep breath, which will allow your brain to better deal with anxiety and incoming stimuli.
- Try a magic phrase: “You may be right” works wonders. It allows to acknowledge there might be something to their point of view and imply that you will consider it, without actually agreeing with them. Of course, to say this with integrity and honest caring and love for them, you will need to actually consider their perspective seriously and mull it over with an honest assessment and an openness to learning from them. Other helpful phrases include: “I hear you,” “I understand,” and “I’m sorry.”
- Be genuinely curious: Go into Sherlock Holmes mode and learn absolutely everything you possibly can about the other person and their situation. Look to see if you can find something surprising, revealing, explanatory, or ideally, some common ground to work with.
- Let go of my Ego: Spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle has said, “Through being ‘right,’ you feel superior and through feeling superior you strengthen your sense of self. In reality, of course, you are only strengthening the illusion of ego.” There is some truth to ponder in that statement.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida