How important is it to have healthy relationships? I believe the magnitude of this can make or break you in life. We are creatures that must live in community, and whether or not it’s your relationship with your boss, mailman, significant other, or God, it all relies on communication. We have to talk to each other. It’s that simple. The consequences of not communicating or going about it the wrong way can be pretty severe. We can start feeling isolated, we burn our bridges, or we can start to feel that we don’t matter.
However, communication does not come naturally. It is a skill that we have to learn. Survivors living through abusive relationships are taught to be passive. They try not to rock the boat by staying silent about their wants or needs. Their voice does not matter to the abuser. Survivors are not respected. The only person respected is the abuser. This is actually a big red flag when trying to spot a survivor of sex trafficking. Is someone else doing the talking? Do they defer to the person with them for every decision?
After they are free from the situation, survivors usually adopt one or two extreme ways of communicating. Either they continue being passive and sink further into themselves, or they shift all the way to the other side and become aggressive. They may try to take back their power forcefully the way they saw their abuser do. Survivors may think that if they become the bully that they will be protected and others will have to listen to them. As you can imagine, neither way works particularly well.
So how can we talk to others? It helps to keep in mind the idea of respect. Are you respecting yourself and the other person at the same time? You have the right to voice your opinions, needs, and wants. The other person deserves that as well! This is called being assertive. If we want to break this down to a simple analogy, think of a passive person being a turtle that hides in their shell anytime they need to confront someone. An aggressive person is a lion thinking that he is king of the jungle and only his way goes. An assertive person is a wise old owl that thinks, slows down, listens, and speaks.
Jesus, being the perfect person that he was, shows us how to communicate. Jesus certainly had some assertiveness skills. He knew that was the best way to break down other’s defenses so they have the greatest chance of hearing what he was going to say. He was respectful of people because he loved them. He communicated this way most of the time.
We do see Jesus become aggressive a few times. Aggression or passiveness can be appropriate when you or someone else is in danger. If someone threatens you physically, your chances of survival may be better if you are either passive or aggressive. I wonder if Jesus was aggressive because he saw that someone’s eternal life was in jeopardy. He was generally most aggressive with the Pharisees, who were so closed off to the truth that they were leading other people into lies and damnation.
Stop for a minute and think about why you need friends, family, and neighbors. No man is an island. Are you being a wise owl and using respectful communication? Or are you hiding in a shell or roaring out your thoughts? Assertiveness is the best way to have healthy relationships with others and real conversation. Love your neighbor as yourself.