‘Could you go and sniff somewhere else. This is a confined space.’
The remark took me by surprise. I could have understood it if I’d coughed. Humph!
My wife and I were visiting Kingston Lacy, a National Trust property while on holiday last week and admittedly, the path where I stood was less than two metres wide but it was outside. I’d been there ten seconds and would be for a further ten as Jane rejoined me.
As we walked on, he stood there. Umm… awkward. Confrontation or apology? Well, neither as it happened. We just walked on. Putting aside my own humphitude, the incident reminded me how Covid-anxiety is still very present as society awakes from its anaesthetised slumber. I felt sad for him and reflected on what might have happened in his life that sparked such a sensitivity to another’s innocuous behaviour.
It reminded me of a phone call I had with a very dear friend many, many years ago. A difficult situation had developed between us and a mutual acquaintance. ‘Let’s have some honesty here, Richard,’ she said. Ouch. I felt stung – more so than the incident above. It was accusatory. The implication that I was being ‘dishonest’.
In both instances, those speaking were under strain. Yes, they were being honest about how they felt. But they were upset. Their words arising from what was going on for them and not just about me.
A recent article in the Church Times recounted an interview with Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Within it, he makes one of the most ‘honest’ statements about the church (that is the Christians who inhabit it) that I have ever read. And I have to say, in all honesty, I agree with him…
‘It may be it’s not reasonable to say to believers, you aren’t sufficiently transformed for me to believe that you believe in God or that you believe the story you are telling me… the way you live isn’t sufficient testament to the truth.’
And, of course, much as I agree with him so is his honesty true of me. That is perhaps the nature of such honesty: that it is uncomfortable. It makes us feel awkward and defensive.
Yes, I could have stood in a more considerate place. Yes, I could have handled the situation with my friend better. Yes, my life could be more reflective of my belief. We can all learn from being on the receiving end of another person’s honesty.
But what is uncomfortable for us also reveals the discomfort of others. Perhaps part of our response to such ‘honesty’ is to ask what’s going on for them? Because it’s probably not just about us.
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