Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Collateral damage 5

Just as we don't like to think of ourselves as collateral damage, we also don't want to believe we cause collateral damage to others.

But we do.

We have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of thinking of ourselves as perennial victims. In both the church and in regular life, the person who believes they are always and only on the receiving end of injustice is a dangerous person indeed.

Unfortunately, I have been in a position to try to resolve many local church conflicts over the years. In the overwhelming majority of these, the main problem has been one person (sometimes several people) at the heart of the situation who refuses to see themselves as anything other than a victim.

It is an amazing thing to see someone cause tremendous damage to a church, both directly within the conflict, and collaterally to the entire congregation, all the while believing that they are the one being wronged. When someone falls into a perpetual victim mindset, they justify everything they do as defensive, as standing up for themselves, as reacting to what others are doing to them. In this person's mind, the list of persecutors does nothing but grow as church leadership tries to deal with the situation. The person feels that they have many enemies, when in fact there are just many people trying to help.

The person in this frame of mind does not realize they are causing damage to others. They have gotten themselves into a way of thinking where they are completely innocent. And so, in their mind, anything they do is necessary and justified.

Some people have personality disorders and other forms of mental impairment that make it extremely difficult for them to see beyond themselves. This is a sad situation indeed, especially since so little can be done.

But most people slip into this way of thinking during a conflict, usually without realizing it. Here is where being ruthlessly honest with yourself about your motivations and perceptions can help. Do your friends and loved ones actually agree with your perceptions? Or are they just being a listening ear? Perhaps they have even tried to steer you out of the way you have been thinking. Rather than being defensive, it makes sense to listen to people who are trying to show you another perspective.

We are all people who both affect others and are affected by them. No one is only a victim. No one is only a perpetrator. For a person who sees themselves only as a victim, coming to a place where they realize they can cause damage as well as be damaged is a major step forward—both for themselves and for those around them.

In church, it is essential that we understand this dynamic. By its very nature, the church is a place where the hurting should find healing and where sinners should find transformation. But we in the church need to be very wise about these matters. We cannot afford to let people wallow in their victimhood. We cannot afford to ignore sin or sweep it under the rug. We need to live out a message of transformation for everyone, both for the "obvious" sinner and for those whose hurt sometimes disguises the fact that they, too, are capable of causing harm.

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