So Far As It Depends On You – Part 2

Part 1 of this piece concluded with the statement that the friend in question was no longer trustworthy. The piece further opined maintaining a relationship with someone who is untrustworthy is risky at best, foolish or dangerous at worst. And, the piece posed some questions a reader might have about this writer’s thinking in ending this relationship. Hopefully, Part 2 will answer those questions and explain the reasoning behind the dissolution of a thirty-something year relationship.

It is likely each person reading, “the individual in question was no longer trustworthy,” in Part 1, experienced a reaction to that phrase. Their reactions were based on personal experience and understanding of the term, trustworthy, and that is where problems arise with discussions of this nature. For instance, some might feel one is either trustworthy or not trustworthy. Oh, if it were only that simple.

If I asked you to define the term trustworthy in one word, what would you say? It is likely the first word that would pop into the minds of most people is honest. Another word that would come up fairly quickly might be dependable. Merriam-Webster online would agree with the dependable response, and Oxford Dictionaries would agree with the honest response. Oxford throws in truthful, and Merriam-Webster adds worthy of trust. To some, the distinction between the two definitions may be nonexistent or moot.  In the real world however, the differences may be significant.

For example, consider Dennis the Menace. Dennis is, of course, a comic character, but comics such as Dennis the Menace illustrate the realities of life in a whimsical way that can often be more on point than an Oxford University lecturer attempting to explain the nuances of the definitions mentioned above.

Few people, when confronted with someone like Dennis, would consider that person trustworthy. Yet, Dennis fits the definitions of the word to a tee. He is honest and truthful. In fact, he is so honest and truthful, he is often an embarrassment to his parents. He is also dependable. In fact, as his parents and his long-suffering neighbor know, he can be depended upon to create chaos and elevated blood pressures on a regular basis. In absolute terms then, he is trustworthy. Regrettably, he is trustworthy in a very negative sense. So you ask, what does Dennis the Menace have to do with the topic at hand?

Social media tends to bring out the Dennis in many of those who use it. A cartoon character frustrating his parents and disrupting the lives of neighbors and friends is apparently amusing. At least, it is amusing enough to keep the comic strip alive for more than sixty years. Such behavior may not be as amusing in other venues such as social media. The question then becomes when does cartoonish or reactive behavior cross the line from disappointing to unacceptable?

The answer is of course subjective. One may put up with a goodly amount of strange behavior to keep peace with a neighbor. The same may be true for a lifelong friend or family member. Still, at some point, it is possible for a friend or relative’s behavior to be so far outside the realm something must be done about it.

To this writer, the Bible offers some insight into this issue. Whether one believes the Bible is the inspired word of God, or simply a collection of morality plays, makes little difference. It contains many good bits of wisdom within its pages, and one seems to give some good advice on the issue at hand. In the Book of Romans Paul writes the following, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (12:18, ESV)

It is dangerous to pull one verse out of the Bible to make a point. Many will argue, taking a verse out of context is wrong, and may misrepresent the intended message. Others will say, variations in translations mean one must look much further than just one translation, a handful of sermons, or a select group of commentaries. All of those concerns are valid, but this verse can stand on its own.1

One goal of this piece was to develop a process or strategy for helping someone know when it was no longer possible to live at peace with a particular individual. In the face to face world, there are many thoughts on this issue. It seems safe to say that in most cases an advisor, counselor, or therapist would agree there is a point beyond which one is not expected to continue a relationship. Usually, that point is reached when a person’s psychological or physical well-being is threatened by continuing the relationship.

It might be possible to apply the face to face thoughts and guidelines concerning conflict resolution to social media. It might be possible, but it seems unlikely. If someone continues a social media relationship that is causing them psychological distress, or poses even a remote threat of injury, they need more help than a blog or essay can provide.2 For everyone else, here are some suggestions.

First, as noted in Part 1, the person needs to be confronted. Given the nature of this discussion, it does not seem advisable to respond tit-for-tat. That is, if someone posts a rant including objectionable terms, pejorative remarks, or ad hominem attacks, it is inappropriate to respond in kind. It would be doubly wrong to if the response is public, but even a private response should be reasoned. Still, some response is appropriate.  If the person attacked another of one’s followers or contacts a response is crucial.

Second, the question becomes what does one do if the confrontation does not work? There are a range of possible strategies from a more direct response via social media to a face to face meeting of some sort. One this writer particularly likes is an old school approach of sending a letter. Even in today’s world, taking the time to write a letter and the fact the other party can hold it in his or her hand is attention-getting. The drawback, of course, is the delay between the incident and the letter being read.

Third, what does one do if steps one and two do not bring about the desired results? Depending on the level of the relationship this step could involve anything from another heartfelt and thoughtful letter to some form of intervention involving others who have a relationship with the person. If going to this length does not work, it is likely nothing short of divine intervention will make any difference.

Some will think this piece seems to be a great deal of thought, advice, opinion, or folderol to solve a relatively simple problem. In the world of instant gratification, hookups, and I-don’t-have-time-for-this-nonsense, the idea of doing anything other than simply moving on immediately is alien. If that is one’s position, so be it. However, this is also the time of understanding, seeing things from another’s perspective, and alleged tolerance.

Many times, a person will be consciously or unconsciously testing the waters so to speak when he or she does something offensive. An off-color joke, if there is such a thing in 2017, an inappropriate reference to someone, or an offensive comment is often made to see how others respond. Failing to respond is in and of itself a response.  One that the other party can justifiably assume is positive. Therefore, unless one is okay with the other’s behavior, a more substantive response is essential.

Engaging in the process outlined above opens the door to saving a relationship or helping another see they are acting inappropriately. Of course, it could also open the door to the possibility that the other person is on point, and you or I need to take another look at how we deal with disagreements or misunderstandings. Either way, there is some value in attempting to deal with conflict in a systematic and reasoned manner.

Back to the Bible verse above.  Whether one believes it is God’s word or some human’s attempt at wisdom, there is sage advice in that passage.  We should live at peace with others, as much as it is humanly possible.  That does not mean we must put up with cartoonish, offensive, possibly harmful behavior.

1. It is in middle of a passage laying out various forms of acceptable Christian behavior, but none change the meaning. One should do the best one can to live at peace with others.
2. I am not dumping the physical threat issue, there is simply not time to address it here. Unless the social media bully lives close by, there should be time, in most cases, to get some advice from reliable sources about how to avoid a physical confrontation.

© OneOldCop – 2017

About S. E. Jackson

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