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  • Writer's pictureLaura Kae

The Danger of Clarification in Communication

“What if I just never did it again? Are you sure I need to admit I was wrong? They probably don’t remember it anyway. It really wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I certainly can’t be responsible for pain when I never actually intended to hurt anyone, can I?”

Step nine is undoubtedly a step every twelve-stepper on the face of this earth has feared at one time or another. In layman’s terms, step nine is simply making amends. Step nine requires moral fortitude. The good news is the first eight steps have helped us strengthen our moral muscles. We actually can choose to take this next step if we want. We are able.

Perhaps of all the twelve steps, this is the trickiest. In order to navigate it successfully, one must avoid a myriad of pitfalls. It is one of the only steps that directly involves another person. It is the only step that includes interaction with people from our pasts.

I am currently reading the Marriage Builder by Dr. Larry Crabb. In it, he compares walking in God’s truth to walking on a balance beam. It is so easy to fall into error on one side or the other.

I think step nine is like the balance beam. It is incredibly easy to entirely mess up making amends. For example, I have noticed clarifying miscommunication can become rationalizing selfish behavior. If correcting miscommunications could be described as balancing on the beam, then for the offender surely on one side of the beam is the pitfall of rationalizing their sins with their good intentions. On the other side is accepting responsibility for something that could not possibly have been their fault. For the offended, we walk a narrow line between not holding people accountable for their actions (when they fall into the pit of rationalization) and not understanding the other’s point of view because we are unable to see how they could have possibly thought they were loving us when what they did hurt so badly!

It is extremely tricky business.

Indeed there are times when our entirely good intentions do hurt someone. We think we are communicating love, and the person on the receiving end of our “act of love” is receiving nothing but frustration and pain. Once when I was a kid, due to a position I was in outside of my control, I was always given the first choice of two pieces of candy. The other child received my leftovers. I had entirely good intentions when I always chose the piece of candy I wanted the least. I thought for sure the other child must feel loved by my sacrifice. As it turned out, the other child took great offense that I was always eating the candy they wanted! Trust me when I say I was a joyful child the day this misunderstanding was corrected! Sometimes hurtful actions really are a result of miscommunication.

But sometimes they are not. Take for example, the way I treat men. I have all kinds of excuses for the way I treat them. Lots and lots of clarification for my behavior is available. Only it wouldn’t actually be clarifying; it would be rationalizing. It is truly hard to clarify how I intend my ignoring, lashing out or defensive sarcasm as love. When I try to clarify these actions, it sounds like, “I was scared.” or “I don’t know how to act in this situation.” or “I am not used to having men like you in my life. What was I supposed to do?” or “I was abused. You really can’t expect me to act any better, can you?” Sometimes my behavior with men truly is cultural or personal miscommunication. Often my behavior is self-protective, and I haven’t cared how the other person was affected as long as I remained safe.

Sometimes even when I don’t mean to be selfish, I will be extremely selfish. I may be too busy to stay in touch with a friend or may re-prioritize my work schedule without clearly communicating new boundaries to those involved. It is understandable that the people receiving lower priority will be hurt because I never took the time to explain to them why my schedule had to change. Then I might clarify my good intentions, but also apologize for my selfishness. I might repent of the sin I did not know I was committing. After all, in effect I was so selfishly focused on my own goals that I didn’t even know I was being selfish.

As I contemplate how to avoid the pitfall of rationalizing my selfish behavior while making amends, I think the answer must be in making sure I take the first eight steps before I go for the ninth. This means before I have a conversation with someone to make amends or talk about something difficult, I have cleaned out my own backyard. I have taken time to allow God to point out my actions, language and attitudes that are unhealthy and sinful. I have taken responsibility for my character defects. Before I have a conversation with the other person, it is necessary for me to take a good long look at myself and recognize my own selfish ways. Then, I can truly go to the other person and make amends while focusing on and discussing my shortcomings not theirs.

Rationalization is a sign we have never taken step one in the area of our life that we are rationalizing. We have never truly admitted to our weakness (hurt, habit or hang up) and our inability to control it. Perhaps surprisingly to some people, we can know we have a problem and still be entirely in denial. Rationalization is the pitfall of those who live lives of denial. Before taking step one and beginning to allow God to work in an area of our lives, we can sound like a broken record, “I know I have a problem, but… I know I should change, but… I know I am hurting people, but…” It is in the land of rationalization, where responsibility is dismissed with a little “but”.

And the “buts” are never-ending, but they don’t have to be. Each time we catch ourselves making excuses, we can choose to step out of denial, face our own shortcomings, forgive and ask for forgiveness. Being in denial or unawareness of our sinful behavior isn’t a place of condemnation, just an indicator that we need to change.

There are times when clarifying communication truly is the right way to take step nine and make amends, but often we may owe someone an apology even when we didn’t intend our actions to be hurtful. How could it possibly hurt to say, “I didn’t intend to hurt you, but I realize I was selfish and I did. I am sorry. Is there anyway I can make it up to you?”

It’s time to quit rationalizing, ‘fess up to our sins and apologize. Will you join me?


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