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.