After you mess it up big, you can imagine the circle of people who confirm their suspicions about you, saying things like –
“I always knew something was up with him”
and “That’s why he did that”
and “It’s sad he turned out that way”
and ending with some faux smooth-over like “But we should pray for him.”
In an instant, circles of people can find you repulsive because one person repeated their rehearsed side of the story, and no one had the patience to hear yours.
I used to believe every story had two sides. Now I believe there is only one story fragmented into a million pieces. When I counsel people, I never understood how very small actions could be so vastly misinterpreted. We presume malice, evil, and war over one look, one word, or one lack thereof. It could be cleared up so quickly, like the Idiot Plot in sitcoms where it would all be resolved by a simple sit-down.
But in reality, no one is willing to let go of their version of what happened. I can understand those sitcoms: because talking about it would mean the possibility of admitting you’re wrong.
Unless we’re talking about known murderers and rapists and abusers — everyone should get a fair chance to be heard. Yet it seems like only criminals get a public trial. Everyone else is left to fend in the dirt of trashy hearsay. I would know: I’ve been living in the same town for sixteen years, and rarely does anyone see the “old self” is dead. I’m constantly judged against my past, which maybe I deserve, but often it feels like I’m reciting a constant apology.
No matter how you act or react, someone will re-tell your actions in a way that kills your character and inflates theirs. Always. They use a calm reasonable voice for themselves — “And I was like, ‘We can work this out’” — and a horrible high-pitched scratchy voice for yours — “And she was like, ‘Nyah nyah I’m crazy and irrational and insane and I don’t wanna.’”
Parts of the real story will inevitably be left out, even when they try to be fair, and all your actions will be re-interpreted in retrospect as sinister. That circle will avoid you, whether they want to or not, out of a loyalty that is both admirable and misguided.
Some of us have so well rehearsed our version of the story that we gather large groups of people to turn against the other guy; we collect every listening ear for pity and understanding and affirmed anger; we run this guy out of town by making all our friends despise him; and anyone who doesn’t is not a “true friend.”
Someone’s comment is an “accusation.” A glance is a glare.
A handshake is a threat. A compliment means he’s phony. A smile means she’s evil.
We presume intentions and judge the hearts of men to mean many things:
and end up in a spiral of speculation that only splinters our communities.
It’s not all delusional, but always damaging.
When you ring this bell, it can’t be un-rung.
In the space of our self-corrected mind, we can blow up a molehill into melodrama.
Let’s be real here. This is gossip, plain and simple. God has some things to say about gossipers. Not nice things. God does not sit quietly while His kids are wrecking each other’s lives. Your mouth and my mouth will answer to Him, one way or another. I wish I could be less harsh, but He’s serious on that one.
And hey: I know all the clever language we use to make ourselves look humble and naive and innocent. I know how to say things like, “I don’t mean to be mean” and “I know he’s not evil” and “I’m wrong about some things too” and “It breaks my heart.”
All that sort of talk is sugarcoating our agenda like painting flowers on a missile. I can repeat it enough until I really believe it: but it doesn’t magically make me fair. It just means I’m a better manipulator. It means we’ve become the cult leader of a club called Pity-Me, and anyone who isn’t drinking your Kool-Aid is the enemy.
When we have turned a circle of friends into a noose over someone’s neck, we are doing the devil’s work for him.
I understand why it happens. Our default mode is to justify our own actions at all costs, simply because the cognitive dissonance of saying “I’m wrong” is so much of a burden. We fear to lose stock within our circle. We want to maintain legitimacy in our leadership. We’ve been told that feeling guilt and shame are wrong. I get that.
But I have to counter: taking responsibility is healthy. We can’t confuse this with “guilty feelings,” which we’re free to leave behind. To take the blame on some things, even everything, is more credible than fighting for credibility.
You can be absolutely right, but still handle it so wrong. You can be absolutely wrong, but handle it in a way that aims to restore everyone: not just your own reputation.
Dear friends: let’s break the spell of the artfully crafted cover story. Very rarely is anyone 100% in the right, and very rarely is the other person so malicious that they fit the tale you’ve been sowing into your circle of reluctant friends. If you have contributed to the shunning of a living breathing human being who is not a criminal mastermind nor a heartless thug, let’s cut a little slack. Let’s, in fact, redeem our stories instead of rehearsing them. That will mean reaching across the dividing line and going against the grain: but it is far, far better.
“If somebody jabs you and you jab back, you better believe the person who jabbed you in the first place is going to frame it so you get all the heat. They won’t mention the instigation, they’ll just tell everybody what you said and did and pretend they never lifted a finger.
If a person has so little integrity that they jab you, you better believe they’re gonna win in the slop.
Here’s what Jesus says to do: Turn the other cheek.
Insane, isn’t it? Jesus says to take the hit and walk on.
It stinks, I know. And it’s not like it’s a tactic that helps you win in the end. It doesn’t. But it’s great damage control, it’s humbling, and it’s saying to the world you don’t think you’re God.
By turning the other cheek we avoid the pig slop.”
— Hannah Whitall Smith in “Discipline” by Elizabeth Elliot
— Elizabeth Elliot in Discipline
— St Francis de Sales
I recently committed a sin, a willful, selfish action that defied God’s authority and design for my life. The moment and moments after are tormenting. I said to myself, “I can’t believe you did that. What would God think of you? After all you guys have gone through. I really can’t believe that you did that.”
Then I thought, “What would God think of this? Would he be as surprised as I was?”
The fact of the matter is, God wasn’t surprised at all. In fact, He knew that in that time, place, and emotion, I would commit that sin and that I was actually more than capable, heck, prone to act like that.
The reason why we can’t believe that we did that is because we have an ignorant, incomplete, fluffed, and inaccurate beliefs of ourselves. We have to acknowledge that we live in the world that is a prisoner of sin (Gal 3:22). We have to acknowledge that, before we met Jesus, we really didn’t know any better. We have to acknowledge that we have to constantly fight to follow God’s design, which is unnatural and foreign to our old ways (Gal 5:16-18).
When we get real with ourselves and realize that we are prone to fail, that’s when we give up trying to do godly things on our own. That’s when we stop trying to be someone that we are not. That’s when we stop proving our righteousness to God and to the world.
That’s when God says, “Alright, let’s get this show rollin’” It’s basically doing this every moment, every day, every year… that results in God-led transformation.
So, let’s get real and get down to the business. Shall we?