Friday, April 27, 2012

Ballroom Dancing and the Body of Christ

When Vickie and I attended amateur ballroom dancing competition in March I was struck by the fact that even though it was a competition that the participants were cheering each other on and that people of different dancing-level ability could be on the dance floor in a heat at the same time without a sense of incongruity.

For example, Newcomer, Bronze, Silver, and Gold competitors in Rumba could be in the same heat, each having to execute dance routines of varying difficulties, and yet each couple was appreciated for where they were in their development and for their willingness to dance before judges and an audience. There was no sense that “This couple is far superior to that couple”, they were all appreciated. Furthermore, the support for each couple on the dance floor was not limited to those from their particular studio, but competitors and spectators from each studio supported, applauded, and encouraged all competitors.

Perhaps this environment of mutual support was a result of the fact that competitors who love dance understand the commitment required to dance competitively and honor the willingness to walk out on a floor where the action is “live” and mistakes cannot be edited for the viewing audience. Also, many of those in the audience either dance themselves or know one of the dancers, and therefore have an appreciation for the commitment and desire of the dancers.

There were dances in which some partners had to stop their routine, regroup, and start again. These were generally routines in which one of the partners was an instructor and the other was on the learning curve and had missed a step or a sequence of steps. I sensed no criticism in the audience when this happened but rather encouragement and appreciation that the dancers were giving it their best. This reminds me of competitive ice skating when a competitor takes a fall – I only sense admiration that the competitor gets up and continues the routine. There is no joy in the audience in the fall, in fact there is sympathy.

This environment of mutual support and encouragement is not only lacking in our society in general, but in the Body of Christ in particular. We don’t usually “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” or seek to restore those who have fallen “in a spirit of meekness”, but rather we engage in endless comparison and all too often take pleasure in the faults and failures of others.

I mentioned that the atmosphere of encouragement transcended the various studios represented; wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christian denominations and traditions encouraged each other? Wouldn’t it be a measure of fulfillment of Christ’s prayer that we “all be one as Christ and the Father are one”? How absurd and petty our rivalries (even though we don’t usually admit them) must appear before a Holy God and His angels. All too often we derive our identities from our distinctions from others, we are known more for what we are against than for what we are for – this is a shame.

As Paul tells the Corinthians, when there is envy and strife we act as mere men and women; we are not mere men and women, we are daughters and sons of the Living God.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Email – One Machine to Another or One Person to Another?

Philosophers have wondered whether or not war is mankind’s natural state of relations and peace the exception. A corollary of this is that conflict is man’s natural state of relations; from individuals to nations.

Businesses are known to be exceptions when they exhibit great customer relations. Many firms spend significant funds training their employees in customer service; they would not need to spend these funds were conflict not the rule and peace not the exception. As I write these words I realize that another reason people need to be trained in customer service is that many (most?) employees are treated as machines, but yet they are expected to treat customers in a fashion that they are often not treated within their own companies. Remember, we no longer have Personnel departments, we now have Human Resources departments – who are we kidding?

The pitfalls of email are myriad, including misunderstanding, depersonalization, stressful multiple interruptions, knee-jerk reactions; all of these can result in conflict that may not have occurred in either face-to-face meetings or in telephone calls.

Staccato emails are some of the worst depersonalization offenders. A staccato email is one that arrives in our inbox, or is sent through our outbox, without a name in the body of the email – it is a piece of information with no personal element in it whatever, it is the equivalent of one computer communicating with another computer; “do this” “you did this wrong” “this is the deadline” “why isn’t this report in?” “what does line 12 on page 23 mean?”.

Do we not begin letters with the words “Dear Susan” or “Dear Mr. Jones”? Yet with emails we think nothing of leaving off the name of the person we are writing to, and why should we include it? After all, we are simply biological machines transferring bits and bytes of information to one another. When the corporate server at my job communicates with my laptop it hardly begins the communication with, “Dear Bob’s laptop”, so why should our emails be any different?

And then there are those emails without a signature; we think that having a “signature block” excuses us from ending an email “Bob” or “Bob Withers”, but that makes as much interpersonal sense as not signing a traditional letter and only including a traditional signature block with my printed name and title. Something apart from my proforma email signature block hopefully lets the recipient know that the email was generated by an actual “Bob”. But then again I don’t suppose our corporate server has a name and as far as I know my laptop doesn’t have a name so maybe I’m making too much of this.

If conflict and misunderstanding are the natural state of human affairs then I want to minimize the possibility of misunderstanding and conflict in my communications; I need to work at not being a machine transmitting data and at not being a machine receiving data. I don’t know if my fellow machines will appreciate this, but I’ve got to try.