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Today's Moral Dilemma

When should you tell a friend that you think their great idea isn't such a great idea, and when should you keep your mouth shut?

A few years ago, I was in a lot of turmoil about a relationship. I knew, in my gut, that the relationship was not healthy for me or for my marriage, but I was having a really hard time disentagling myself. Then, one day, I had (what I thought was) a brilliant idea. I decided I could form a group which included me and some other minister friends (and of course the person who I was entangled with) for the purpose of discussing our vision of ministry, providing support for each other, etc. I tested out my idea on a couple of friends who all seemed somewhat reserved in their support of my plan, and then barrelled on ahead.

The group turned out to be great. But it was really stupid to include the person who I had such a conflicted relationship with. It didn't "resolve" any of my conflicts--it only dragged them out for about another year. When I finally realized the stupidity of my actions, I again shared my feelings with a close friend. She looked at my with great sympathy and said, "Yea, I really thought that was a bad idea when you first told me about it."

I thought about my friend's comment for weeks afterwards. Why hadn't she said anything to me at the time? If she had, would I have listened? Or, would I have been resentful of her lack of support for my brilliant idea? Which made me wonder--when I told her about my plan, was I really looking for feedback and advice? Or was I just looking for support, whether or not my decision made sense to her?

This episode came strongly to mind yesterday because a very good friend of mine called me with a great idea. And while I know I don't necessarily have good insight into her situation, her idea didn't seem that great to me. I told her so, and now I'm seriously wondering if I did the right thing.

Our congregation has, as part of its history and structure, the expectation that people need "accountability" in order to grow spiritually. This is part of the reason why we meet in small groups, sharing our intention to keep a series of spiritual disciplines and giving each other permission to ask us how it's going. There can be an ugly side to accountability--a "holier than thou" attitude by those who are examining others' commitment and hostility or defensiveness from those who are being held accountable. But there is also a great deal to be gained when you give someone permission to say to you, "Are you staying true to your intentions?"

Is that permission implied in a deep friendship?


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John Lobell

Heather, your post is profound. I will comment more later.

Tracy G.

I found your church blog after reading one of your articles for my evangelism class with David Schoen.
This type of situation that you speak of in this entry is truly a tough one, but my gut feeling is that honesty is always the best policy with the caveat that how you deliver the honest is of great importance.
You can't really worry too much about whether or not your friend hears what you have to say -- one can never really know another person's true motivations. To be honest, can we honestly say that we always know our own true intentions?
I guess that I am generally a very honest person, so I tend to tell people what I think, even if I know that it will hurt them. I have had too many instances of not speaking when I should have, and the people end up being hurt anyway, so the only thing that I was avoiding was being a source of hurt.
I would much rather have someone acknowledge my enthusiasm for something, but then also be honest about why they do not share my enthusiasm about what I want to do. Whether I hear what they have to say or not depends more on my abililty to be fully present with the other person more than what I think about that other person or how much I value their opinion. Of course, being excited about something has the tendency to stifle rationality to an extent.
I would just honestly voice my thoughts to the friend, suggest that they pray some more about the situation, and then try not to take it personally if they chose to go forward with their idea.

Bob Racine

Thanks for showing me how to get into this business.

Nan Powell

Great job on this post, Heather!


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