The Office and The Gospel of Matthew: Venting and Truthtelling

Yesterday I watched an episode of The Office where the inept boss, Michael, discovers that all his staff have been complaining about each other to the Human Resources officer. The HR officer takes down some notes and files it away; usually the person goes away feeling listened to and better for having vented. But Michael wrenches the file of complaints off the HR officer and announces to the whole office that they are going to bring all these conflicts out into the open and deal with them properly – face to face. It has disastrous consequences. Instead of breeding a new climate of honesty and understanding, everyone rehashes the small annoying things they can’t stand about each other. And some people discover enemies they didn’t know they had.

It brought to mind my Matthew 18 fixation of a few years ago and left me further mired in doubt about the effectiveness of what I believe. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus tells us that if our brother or sister sins, we should go sort it out with them face to face. John Yoder is hardline in his interpretation of this, both in the binding and loosing section of Body Politics and an essay of the same name in another book. He says that it applies to all offences – not just major ones, and not just ones committed against us.

There’s profound truth in the idea that it’s bad to go complaining about people behind their backs, while pretending everything’s okay to their face. It breeds nastiness and bitterness and corrupts us against each other.

Yet ‘venting’ also seems to work. It’s too traumatic being completely honest with each other all the time. You get mired in the minor. (Unless you learn to be more gracious.) Personality differences cause friction. They’re mostly not worth confronting each other about.

I haven’t found a solution. I try to not let things annoy me, and I try not to complain about people to other people. I don’t always live up to it.

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3 thoughts on “The Office and The Gospel of Matthew: Venting and Truthtelling

  1. I think it’s ok to vent and like you said it stops us all getting bogged down in things that we decide are too minor to go through the hassle and pain of dealing with. The venting can allow us to be gracious because it helps us to process the issue. I can always tell, though, when the ‘venting’ turns into bitching – it’s when you’re have too much fun with it and you start using phrases like, “And you know what else he did?” Probably in that case you have an issue that needs proper addressing. Or you can just decide to be gracious, and swallow the desire to keep bringing it up!

  2. Matthew 18 is one of those passages I keep on coming back to. I’m glad the process works in stages – two people, a few people, the whole church, etc. The thought of defining truthtelling as being totally open about everything, to everyone, all the time is appalling.

    I’ve been re-reading John Woolman’s Journal and reflecting on how wise that Quaker discipline of silence and careful speech is. It’s so easy to say something just to hear the sound of our own voice or because the quiet is uncomfortable. I know we shouldn’t tell lies but I can think of times we shouldn’t tell truths either. Perhaps ‘let your yes be yes …’ isn’t just about ‘true speech’. Maybe it’s about ‘simple speech’.

  3. Hey,

    Interesting reflections.

    I could write a lot, perhaps as way of processing my own thoughts.
    I think that this passage is a great model for how we are to deal with things.

    Venting. mmm. Processing something; becoming aware of your own ‘junk’ and dealing internally with the happenings of conflict is important.
    In general I lament the inability of people to raise issues, to deal with conflict. When its done it can reveal a depth to a relationship, a commitment.

    The problem with letting little things go is that often they can actually be part of a larger system of relating. So that the issue really isnt the way that Josh spoke to Amy on the one occasion (its such a small thing!) the issue is how Joshua releases the stress he gathers from life. And the way that that stress ends up being dumped on Amy. (I’m not saying to deal with every little thing, but that little things fit into big things).

    I definitely recommend nonviolent communication. It can be such a revelation for how we handle a situation. It requires so much internal searching – for the log in our own eye.

    I have so much more to learn.

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