Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Red Light!

I almost ran a red light last night. I was looking for a street that was a little hard to find and when I locked my eyes on it, that’s all I could see. I wasn’t thinking about something as irrelevant to my quest as a traffic light. What stopped me was the person in the passenger seat who yelled out, “Red light!” Whew! Another car was coming through the intersection and we surely would have collided.

Then, something bordering on the absurd occurred. My friend told me that he was sorry for his outburst. I assured him that I was thankful he had spoken up. But I understand why he felt it was necessary to apologize. No one likes a backseat driver, even if they’re sitting beside us in the front seat. And so, he held his tongue for as long as he could. But then the time came when he had to speak and speak he did.

It got me thinking about how hard I work at allowing people to live their own lives without imposing my little judgments on them. It’s not that I don’t have feedback to offer, but most of the time I will keep it to myself because I don’t want to be perceived as judgmental or, even worse, controlling. I know how much I hate receiving unsolicited advice from others. It makes me bristle and sometimes I’ll lash back. However, usually I just shut down and stop offering further information to that person because I don’t want to hear what they’ll have to say about it. It’s a relationship killer. But so is allowing someone you love to destruct before your eyes without speaking up.

The Bible talks about “speaking the truth in love”, which I think is one of the hardest things for me to do, especially if it’s a hard truth. There is always a risk involved. You could offend the other person and potentially ruin a relationship. Sometimes that happens. But what is the alternative?

The key for me is motivation. Is the truth I speak motivated by spite, or a need to control? Then I probably oughta put a sock in it. But if I have examined my motivation and it comes from a place of love for the other person, I have to speak up. One of the mottos I try to live by is, “I’d rather speak up and maybe be kicking myself for it later than remain silent and maybe be kicking myself for it later.” When you love, speaking the hard truth is a risk worth taking.

I can usually tell when someone is sharing a hard truth with me from a place of love. It may not always be graciously received, at least initially. But I know the difference between a person who wants to run my life and one who wants to love and support me while I’m finding my way. The former is resented and the latter is gratefully appreciated.

It seems to me that people in community ought to be able to yell “Red light!” to one another when necessary, whether that community is as small as two people sharing a car, or as large as billions of people sharing a planet. It’s the loving thing to do, isn’t it? We don’t silently sit by and let people we love run red lights.

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