Open Your Mouth

By: Bonnie
May 13, 2012

A few days ago a friend sent me a long and specific email detailing how I had messed up. I value his opinion, so I read carefully. I had to agree with many of the points that he made. I had messed up. I began considering ways to make it right and I was back in the presence of the Lord pleading for His help.

Once upon a time that sort of feedback wasn’t terribly welcome, so it wasn’t terribly useful. I was hurt, offended, and would withdraw to nurse my wounds, dramatically ticking off on my fingers all my martyred efforts at doing right. It’s been a long road to value constructive criticism when it comes, but I now find myself almost going out of my way to stimulate it.

We live in a politically correct society, and I don’t always think that’s a bad thing. It’s a reflection of an evolved culture that values the intangible oil that makes our interactions run smoothly – mercy. I’ve frequently said that it’s a relatively small jump from political correctness to genuinely moral motivation. The unfortunate side-effect of all those public manners is an inability to face our own and others’ ugliness, to communicate clearly and without rancor that someone has messed up, to set boundaries, to call one another out.

Fascinated by the story of Job, I love the description of his friends coming to visit him. Prior to their visit the narrator intones: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” When his friends came to visit, they waited with appropriate deference to his suffering, “So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.”

Nobody had sinned yet, because nobody had opened his mouth. As soon as they did, all kinds of stuff broke loose. False philosophies were trotted out, great swelling accusations of God and man were debated, and there was a whole lot of heat and not much light. One would think that it would have been better if they’d all just stayed silent.

However the entire poem is a metaphor for life experience and human communication, the kind that exposes false ideas deeply hidden in our souls so that they can be removed and we can be well. Job exited that painful exchange with a profound understanding that one does not earn earthly favors through obedience. His friends came to an understanding that their various philosophies did not have the power to save either. Everyone sinned, everyone repented, and everyone was better off.

All kinds of prophets have spoken about their feelings of inadequacy to preach the word and always they have been counseled to open their mouths. It’s an act of faith. It’s an act of humility, because not only might the Lord decide not to fill it, it might come out wrong. We might sin and have to repent. We might mess up, and publicly.

Thank goodness someone opened his mouth, even if a foot immediately took up residence.

When my children were young they watched Miss Frizzle on The Magic School bus say every episode, “Take CHANCES! Make MISTAKES! Get MESSY!” I can still hear Lily Tomlin’s voice in my head, because I used to raise my eyebrows from the other room and grit under my breath, “You best NOT.” I didn’t get that they would learn best if they were free to experience life instead of tiptoeing through it in spotless white shirts.

I’m more likely now to get messy. Surgery is messier than leaving things the way they are and pretending we’re well, but I want to be free of what limits me, and opening my mouth seems the most efficient way to find out what needs removed inside. I hope people around me never cease to call me out, to have the faith to open their mouths. We may both spend some time at the feet of Christ, but that’s a good place to be.

What sorts of things do you appreciate people calling you out about?

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11 Responses to Open Your Mouth

  1. hawkgrrrl on May 13, 2012 at 4:55 AM

    A great analogy for feedback is the space shuttle. If it doesn’t get constant feedback on its ascent, even being a millimetre off course makes a huge impact as it continues it’s journey upward – feedback is how we adjust. Social feedback is how we preserve our reputations, credibility and relationships.

    I’d a thousand times rather have someone tell me their negative perceptions of me at work than tell others behind my back and never let me know. It’s like walking around with toilet paper stuck to your shoe. If they tell you, you can do something about it. We all make mistakes, are misunderstood, sound harsher than we mean to at times, or step on toes.

    It has definitely taken me a long time to get to that place where I value it. My childhood dream was to be a writer, and when I was a freshman I presented some of my work to Leslie Norris (Joanna Brooks mentions him as a mentor of hers in her memoir). His feedback was I’m sure spot on but I hadn’t ever had anything but praise for my writing to that point. Three words of his assessment jumped out at me: “not very good.” I was devastated, and truth be told, it changed my course. It’s why I went into business instead of becoming a writer. If I had been more mature at the time, maybe I would have stuck with the writing and been able to handle the feedback better.

    Part of learning to value feedback comes from practice. You have to learn from experience that you will be OK and even better afterward. You have to become secure enough to know that everyone has flaws and that it doesn’t mean you are no good. In fact, accepting our flaws is what makes us authentic human beings and creates connections with other people. Nobody can love a person who is constantly hiding who they are. We have to accept ourselves before others can accept us.

    I love Miss Frizzle. Great advice!

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  2. question on May 13, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    was Job a real person?

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  3. Bonnie on May 13, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    ah the six million dollar threadjack. ;) I find the book of Job too perfect a literary form to be wholly historical, but I don’t have a problem with it being an embellished historical narrative. It’s obviously been edited over the millennia because the prologue and epilogue are written in an entirely different style to fit a different audience. Yes, it could have been Abraham’s story, or a contemporary of Moses, or anyone. He’s Everyman. I’m less interested in Job (though I love the poem) than I am in meeting his wife, but that’s an entirely further threadjack.

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  4. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 13, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    I tend to think of Job as a metaphor for the philosophies of men masquerading as self righteous advice.

    Which God calls them out on in the end.

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  5. mh on May 13, 2012 at 5:44 PM

    I like the idea of learning from your mistakes, but sometimes our culture isn’t very forgiving.

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  6. Bonnie on May 13, 2012 at 10:43 PM

    I’m curious if the willingness to be called out is a feminine trait. What think ye?

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  7. Course Correction on May 14, 2012 at 8:27 AM

    Bonnie,

    I love the way you summed up the lesson from Job: “one does not earn earthly favors through obedience.”

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  8. annegb on May 14, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    I never appreciate or enjoy being called out, but it happens rather too frequently because I’m good at “opening my mouth.”

    Once though, a friend pulled a practical joke on me, and when all was over and we were laughing, she said “you had it coming.” I truly did.

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  9. FireTag on May 14, 2012 at 7:01 PM

    I think “being called out” is one of the reasons we need close relationships — closer than friends. You really have to know how to exploit each other’s vulnerabilities — and then NOT use the power you have — to establish the trust that allows you to see the flaws in your own character when you DO hurt the other.

    Notice how we aren’t really willing to answer your final question in the OP? We know we have to keep boundaries in what we reveal.

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  10. Bonnie on May 14, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    Firetag, that’s my point precisely. We DO establish boundaries, but I think we’re ultra-careful about them, setting them far out and making absolutely sure they don’t touch most of our soul. The surgery can’t go very deep, that way. I agree wholeheartedly with your point that we need relationships closer than friends to do that, but what about someone like me who has a very few extremely close friends, some children, but no spouse? My friend who called me out was not one of my extremely close friends – more in the good friends ring. Was it a good thing to be vulnerable to being called out, or is that something that threatens the continuity of one’s character to let people a ring or two out from our core have that kind of influence?

    I genuinely think we aren’t as destabilized by being called out by folks in that second ring out than we think we might be. That’s what I’m curious about. How much are people willing to push that envelope, and are there compelling reasons not to?

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  11. NewlyHousewife on May 18, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    I appreciate people calling me out in regards to facts. Say I’m teaching SS (which hopefully will never happen) and I say something incorrect about BY. I’d rather be called out for it, and corrected, than to be ignored or worse have a member of the class believe me to be correct and spread further falsehood.

    But rarely do people call me out for that. It seems if anything, I get called out for making people “uncomfortable”. I’m sorry but unless there’s some type of proof I can see, something specific you can tell me to do and offer advice on how to do it–probably best to keep your mouth shut. It’s one thing to be told about toliet paper on your shoe, it’s another thing to be told the shoe your wearing doesn’t match the rest of your outfit. Do you expect me to walk around barefoot? Are you offerring a new pair for me to wear? Are you telling me to change my clothes? Either be straight forward or don’t bother at all.

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