Microinequities

December 8, 2004 | 9 comments
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Yesterday the W$J ran a story on “microinequities” — “the subtle putdowns, snubs, dismissive gestures and sarcastic tones that can sap motivation.” Life is full of microinequities, and Church life is not a safe haven.

Not long ago I heard about a woman in our ward who had been attending Church fairly regularly for the first time in many years. But when her home teachers asked if they might visit her at the Church rather than driving a half hour to her home, well, she decided that she would rather be inactive. I hear stories like this in every ward. Is there anything to be done about it? Here is the “expert” advice:

Any time we feel hurt “about not being recognized, we take it personally,” Ms. Moynahan agreed. “But taking things personally is a way to get stuck.” On the other hand, she said, ignoring subtle slights is just as bad as retaliating with an explosive personal attack because “you start feeling that you’re no good.” Ideally, you should react immediately by affirming the value of your relationship with a microinequity sender — perhaps by saying, “I want to be part of your team,” Ms. Moynahan advised. Give the benefit of the doubt; assume the behavior was unintentional. Next, she continued, pose a nonthreatening question. Ask, “Did someone forget to put my name on the distribution list?” Or “Did you put your e-mail in all caps because you’re mad?” The workshop leader distributed a toolkit with additional tips. Among them: Describe the offensive behavior factually. Express how it affected you and others. Suggest specific changes that require feedback. Spell out the changes’ potential benefits for all involved.

Well, maybe that’s good advice. I prefer to remember James 3:17-18: “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”

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9 Responses to Microinequities

  1. Lamonte on December 9, 2004 at 7:54 am

    Gordon – Of course your advice is the correct and Christ-like approach we should all incorporate into our lives. But I have found, after a life time in the church and more than a quarter century in the business world, that communication is the least understood and the most important issue in our daily lives. Recent conveniences like e-mail have improved our lives in some ways but in many ways they have lowered our standard of communication. Without face to face encounteres we sometimes say things we would never say otherwise, and all too often our thoughts and expressions are misunderstood because the receiver does not experience our body language or facial expression.

    On the other hand, sometimes we are reluctant to communicate because we fear confrontation. When I served as bishop, I found that sometimes leaders in the ward would come to me to express disappointment with the performance of someone under their stewardship and request that that person be released. When I would inquire as to whether or not they had sat down and communicated their feelings in a loving manner to that person, too often the answer was no. When we are offended there is nothing wrong with conveying our feelings sincerely to those who have offended us. Usually the result is greater understanding and the basis for a lasting, closer relationship with the suspected offender.

  2. Gordon Smith on December 9, 2004 at 10:40 am

    Lamonte,

    Excellent comments. You are definitely right about the value of effective communication. I have learned a lot about this subject over the years, often via painful mistakes. The distinction I was making above is one that I am quite fond of: rules v. standards. The so-called experts in the story have a rule for every situation, but most things can be handled quite well with an attitude of charity, which I think is the gist of the scripture I quoted.

  3. Wilfried on December 9, 2004 at 11:22 am

    Interesting post, Gordon, gearing our attention to little, but important things.

    Lamonte: “all too often our thoughts and expressions are misunderstood because the receiver does not experience our body language or facial expression”

    Yes, true, excellent comment. But even visually there may be problems. I throw in my international perspective (I’m expected to do so … ). For example, there are cultures where children learn it is not polite to look in the eyes of the one speaking to you. Once adults, people will continue to have a tendency to look aside or at the mouth of the person speaking. Looking in the eyes makes them feel uncomfortable. But, in the U.S. it can be misunderstood and evaluated negatively (“This person doesn’t look you in the eye”). Also the way a handshake is given — and so many other gestures that carry different cultural values and may foster microinequities. I’m sure returned missionaries from other cultures have a lot to tell about such misunderstandings in communication…

  4. Adam Greenwood on December 9, 2004 at 12:17 pm

    “microinequities – the subtle putdowns, snubs, dismissive gestures and sarcastic tones that can sap motivation.”

    Some days I think we should rename the blog (or the whole bloggernacle) “Microinequities”. Luckily those days have got rarer of late. Good job, all.

  5. CB on December 9, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Adam, I have been noticing the same thing, and I appreciate it as well.

    I am impressed by Kaimi’s ability to be evenhanded, and I look on in awe whenever Jim F. issues a pitch-perfect call to repentance. But I am also glad the need doesn’t arise very much, and the people who visit and post here deserve some credit.

  6. Lamonte on December 9, 2004 at 1:44 pm

    Wilfried,

    Excellent point. I read that after 9/11 the FBI office in Newark, NJ had some sensativity training which included the fact a Muslim woman will not look them in the eye, not because they are guilty , but because of their traditions. Gordon’s further explanation helped me to understand what he meant. If we have a close relationship with the Savior, we will be more spiritually strong which will help us to be less easily offended, thereby making the otherwise uncomfortable encounter unnessecary.

  7. Silus Grok on December 9, 2004 at 4:41 pm

    I really like the distinction that Gordon draws… charity is too often seen as the emotional component of alms-giving, rather than as the pure love of Christ — that insight and tenderness required to see people as the Lord sees them.

  8. Larry on December 9, 2004 at 4:52 pm

    Excellent blog. I learned an invaluable lesson when I coached a Phillipino player on my high school basketball team. On one particular occasion I had to correct something he did in a rather stern manner. I was offended when he wouldn’t look me in the eye and acknowledge the correction. I later learned that this was a cultural trait showing respect and did I feel foolish. I apologized to him for feeling the way I did and now try to be more respectful of everyones body language and nuances instead of interpreting them from my perspective. It’s made communication so much better.

  9. Clark on December 9, 2004 at 5:27 pm

    I often think that the majority of offense is really due to miscommunication. I