In my last column I introduced the Six Habits, a collection of handwritten advice that my Dad scrawled on an 8.5 x 11-inch sheet of typewriter paper. While my title is a shameless rip-off of a business bestseller, the tips are uniquely Dad's. They're nuggets of wisdom from a man who had a highly successful thirty-year career, and yet who at the same time took care of his family with love and spent much time in the service of God.
The first tip was about getting along with others: "One enemy would be too many. Be appreciative and congenial." But there are times, even when you're doing good and being the best person you can be, that people will still wrong you. What do you do then? Well, Dad covered this situation with the second tip on his list:
2) Never get mad. If somebody is not nice to you, have a lot of patience. This is the time to practice being a good Christian.
The moment you start doing work that involves dealing with other people, you'll have many wonderful opportunities to start making enemies. All of us have different backgrounds, different values, and different things that drive us. And when we aren't in complete agreement with others, discord usually sets in. Sometimes we handle it well, but inevitably we'll face situations where we have enemies. And before you say that a Christian shouldn't have any enemies, consider that nearly every good person in the Bible, including Christ, had them.
Human Strategies vs. Godly Solutions I took a project-management class at my company once, and one of the topics was "Conflict Management." These classes have it down to a science: to deal with conflict, you "Compete, Avoid, Accommodate, Collaborate, or Compromise." You need to choose a conflict-management strategy based on the particular situation you're in, although there are positives and negatives to each approach. Every individual has patterns of motivation that cause him or her to interact with others: some combination of "altruistic-nurturing," "assertive-directing," or "analytical-autonomizing." These classes typically have a lot of catchy mnemonics and use lots of fancy, made-up words like "autonomizing" and "synergy."
And yet after the classes are over, even though you can usually recognize the unhealthy interactions and behaviors that go on around the office, you still can't do anything about them. That's because, try as you might, human processes and strategies sometimes can't solve spiritual issues.
Paul gave this advice:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:17-21)
One of the key phrases in this passage is, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you." You can't control what other people do, but you can control yourself. Keep a clear conscience.
Why? Read 1 Peter 3:16-17: "...so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."
One of the best ways to defeat an enemy is to do good to him after he's gone to great lengths to make your life difficult. In reality, it's nearly impossible for someone who doesn't believe in God to do this. In a world where God doesn't exist, the rule is survival of the fittest. If someone hurts you, you hurt that person back, taking special care to make sure that you hurt him more than he hurt you. If you don't exact revenge, others will perceive you as weak, and you'll lose credibility and power.
Someone with God in his or her heart, though, has a different perspective.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret-it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace. (Ps 37:5-11)
Dad's Tip - Put to the Test Strangely enough, only a few months into my job, I had the opportunity to put Dad's second tip into action. Being an eager new employee, I went out of my way to help the company. I did my job to the fullest. On top of that, another project was under a deadline to be delivered, and since I had some expertise in that area, I stepped in and voluntarily gave up my own time to help do some work on that project.
There were rumors that the upper management was very impressed with my work. One day, one of the higher-ups came in to our location, but I happened to be in a class that day. When I got out of the class, I found out that the colleague of mine who sat in the desk across from me was givenâ€”and acceptedâ€”the credit for the work I had done. And in all his discussions with the manager, my name was never even mentioned.
He was given a promotion, a nice job, and his own office. To add insult to injury, the job he got was pretty much my dream job, one that I was uniquely qualified to do! And in the meantime, my own job became more and more tedious and thankless.
So I had a choice. I had every right to publicly accuse this person of taking credit for my work. I could have stormed into the boss' office and made a scene, and I would have been justified. Most of my colleagues knew full well what really happened, so I could have rounded them up as witnesses to accuse the one who took credit for my work. But I didn't.
Now, I didn't sit back and just take it, either. I wrote an e-mail to the manager who had promoted my colleague. It wasn't a scathing letter, nor did I accuse or complain. But, in a very Christian way, I told her objectively and professionally my feelings about what had transpired. And through it all, I took great pains to show respect-for this manager, for my colleague, and also for myself. Before I did that, of course, I prayed that God would give me the wisdom to be genuine.
As is my custom with this type of e-mail, I waited twenty-four hours, read it over again, and then sent it off. But I heard nothing back for months.
It hurt. Bad. In my mind I tried to comfort myself by repeating over and over again the story of Isaac and the wells, which I've heard at so many Student Spiritual Convocations.
Isaac's servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac's herdsmen and said, "The water is ours!" So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, "Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land." (Gen 26:19-22)
"Isaac was a chump," I'd grumble.
Well, if you read on in that passage, you'll find that Isaac went up to Beersheba that night, where the Lord appeared to him and reminded him of the blessing He had spoken to Abraham. The same blessing applies to us: "Do not be afraid, for I am with you."
Of course, I'm no Isaac, but a funny thing happened. A few months later, that manager was about to leave her job. But she did one last thing before she left: she gave me a call to tell me that my coworker wasn't working out in his new job. He was struggling, and she regretted the decision to promote him. She asked if I would like the position, and I accepted. A little while later, the coworker gave me a call. He acknowledged that I was the right person for the job. I ended up doing that job for a few years, and doing it well.
If I had ranted and raved back when the offense took place, I would have lost the respect of everyone. But the fact that I kept quiet, when everyone knew I had every right to rant and rave, showed character.
When the Pharisees came up to Jesus and tried to goad Him into saying something rash or losing His temper, He invariably replied with a soft answer. He had every right to shout and scream. He was accused of doing miracles through Beelzebub. He was accused of cavorting with "tax collectors and sinners." He was accused of brazenly breaking the traditions of the elders and the Law. But each time, He chose to reply with patience and without resentment. And each time, the Pharisees were left speechless and frustrated.
In my few years at my company, this sort of thing has happened to me several times. Each time, I responded with meekness. And each time, the person who wronged me ultimately ended up with egg on his face. Or, to use the Bible's term, "burning coals."
Meekness is not the same as weakness. Mr. Webster defines meekness as "enduring injury with patience and without resentment." It's a choice-one that arises not out of a lack of one's own power, but from an abundance of God's power and complete trust that God is there and knows what He's doing.
Paul's advice in Romans 12:20, which he quotes from Proverbs 25:21-22, sums up what all the fancy corporate training courses could not: how to truly resolve a conflict. The next time you encounter a situation where you are slandered, misrepresented, or plain taken advantage of, try putting Dad's advice to the test. Repay evil with love. Then sit back, and let the Lord do His work.
"In the Workforce" is a recurring column dedicated to survival tips and advice on how to shine the light as a Christian at work. If you have some advice or anecdotes from your own work experience that you feel may be edifying to the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ, please send it to email@example.com.