It had been one of those days at work. Constant interruptions from coworkers with things they needed my input on. Interruptions from customers calling in with random requests. Tasks that should have taken a few minutes took several hours because the software kept crashing. Swarms of emails filled my inbox with various additional requests. And the best part? All of this happening during month end close – the busiest time of the month for me since I work in accounting.
Then, as if that wasn’t stressful and overwhelming enough, another email came in. We have a partner in Canada who sells and distributes our products there and hence does an incredibly high amount of volume. The manager over collections had emailed their accounts payable person about several very past due invoices – invoice that I had originally sent them all the way back in July. Her response? She didn’t have copies of the invoices and needed them sent to her.
I was livid.
What made this so frustrating to me is that all of our invoices are emailed to this customer – how on earth do you lose an email? What’s more, this is not the first time this has happened. This particular person has a history of saying she doesn’t have copies of past due invoices only to have me dig up the original email where I sent them and forward it to her proving that she had already received them at a much earlier date.
So that’s what I did here as well. I dug up the original email that had the invoices, attached it, and wrote the following message in my reply:
“I do not understand why I need to send these invoices twice. They were already sent on 7/28/15. Please see the attached. Is there a process issue over there that needs to be addressed?”
Moments later, the manager over collections came over to my desk (he had been CCed on my response) and calmly said:
“Feeling a little irritated Jeremy?”
“Of course I’m feeling irritated, she needs to do her job!” I shot back, feeling justified in my response.
After I made it through the rest of that stressful day at work, I didn’t much think about that interaction. However, God certainly wasn’t done with it.
The next morning, I was spending my usual time talking with God and he brought a powerful truth I had first learned several years ago back to mind:
Gentleness is profound power.
Gentleness is profound power. That was something I had not thought about in quite some time. What’s more, our culture does not reinforce this either. Rather, our culture equates gentleness with weakness. If I’m not the loudest one in the room, how am I going to get my point across? If I don’t use anger how are they going to know to take me seriously? If I don’t use some harsh words or methods, how will they know the severity of what I’m trying to communicate? In other words, our culture teaches that the above methods are how you get results.
However, God seems to have a totally different way to get results.
Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Notice that gentleness here actually affects how the other person behaves – it turns away wrath. In other words, to get the result of de-escalation, the path to that is gentleness.
Gentleness is also a fruit of the spirit that Paul lists in Galatians 5. Interestingly enough, right after Paul has just listed the fruit of the spirit, he goes on in Galatians 6:1 to say “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” So in other words, Paul says that the qualification to even be able to address someone’s screw-up is that you be able to do it in a spirit of gentleness. That seems to have obvious implications for my recent email…
As I continued to recall what I had learned about gentleness, something else came to mind: gentleness assumes value. If I hand you an antique and say that it’s only worth 50 cents, you probably won’t think too much about how you hold it. However, if I hand you the same antique and say it’s worth three thousand dollars, you’ll hold it very carefully and very gently because of its value.
I then realized that what had happened when I sent that email is in that moment, I had failed to see her value. Every person has incredible value and if you see that value, treating people gently is a natural by product.
However, my email was not gentle. It was harsh, laced with judgement, and carried a not-so-subtle accusation that she is incompetent.
As I started to re-see her as a person instead of an object in the way of my will, I realized that my judging her as incompetent was in total ignorance of her context . Maybe she was overwhelmed with work tasks that day in July when I originally sent her that email. Maybe she had stressful things happening on a personal level that made her unable to focus on work tasks. Maybe she hasn’t gotten the training she needs. Maybe she’s not a detail oriented person like I am. Maybe she had a really rough childhood and because of the stress of that focusing on tasks has always been really hard for her.
As I realized how much judgement I had been sitting in with her I found myself moved to tears with compassion for her as I kept thinking about all the possible contexts that could explain her actions.
I now found myself with a totally different feeling towards her – I wanted to help her.
So I wrote her an email apologizing for my harshness and my judgement of her. Instead of opposing her, I took a different route – a gentle route – and came alongside her asking if there was anything I could do to help her or help make the process better.
With tears still staining the sides of my cheeks, I realized that the path from judgement to compassion goes across the bridge of gentleness.
Because gentleness is profound power.