It's not about the nail

Empathy is important when listening to others, but sometimes the most loving thing is to confront.

By Leroy Seat

Recently a family member forwarded a YouTube video that is making the rounds, written and produced by Jason Headley, titled “It’s Not About the Nail.” If you haven’t seen it, the 1 minute, 42 second video is here.

The e-mail subject line described it, “Fun (and short) video clip -- worth watching.” Online comments include such words as “hilarious,” “LOL” and “cracking up” -- along with many more serious and some sarcastic comments.

In my reply to those on the family distro, I wrote, “Well, I thought this video was interesting, but I didn't think it was funny.” And, “It seems to me that sometimes just listening/understanding isn't enough and not particularly helpful.”

The response from the one who initiated the conversation: “Sometimes no matter how right you may be, if you cannot connect empathically with the other person, it is all for naught and they will not hear your truth.”

I agree. But sometimes people will not listen to reason even if you do connect empathically.

That’s the reason I didn’t think the video was funny. The guy seems to have listened quite well. But that didn’t seem to help overcome the pain the woman in the video was experiencing. As my oldest granddaughter wrote, “Maybe it’s just that sometimes people just have to face facts in their own time.” Probably so. But sometimes we may need to confront others.

This discussion brought to mind the fine book Caring Enough to Confront by Mennonite theologian David Augsburger. In the preface, Augsburger writes, “If I love you, I must tell you the truth.”

Of course, the truth must be expressed carefully and with compassion. That is why Augsburger’s first chapter is called “Care-fronting: A Creative Way Through Conflict.” Putting care and confrontation together, he says, provides “the unique combination of truth and love that is necessary for building human relationships.”

Empathic listening is important in showing others that we care about them, and usually any communication is enhanced by really paying attention to the other’s pain and fears. Once we help others know that we really care about them, then perhaps we can help them solve the problems they are facing or the fears they are wrestling with.

The old saying is doubtlessly true in many cases: “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”

Empathetic listening is important in families and among close friends. And certainly it needs to be practiced wherever, and especially whenever, there are conflicts -- at home, among friends, at work and elsewhere.

Is that how I should respond to those who strongly disagree with my opinions expressed in my blog or on Facebook? Perhaps to a certain degree. But I don’t make these postings as a pastor, counselor or mediator. I am trying to encourage serious thinking and thoughtful dialogue.

When there are disagreements with what I write, I welcome people expressing their opposing viewpoints. But I don’t think my primary response should be, “Yes, I understand how you feel.”

There is a time and place to deal with feelings, of course. But this blog is designed primarily for dialogue, which occurs best when opposing viewpoints are expressed and discussed. Often, indeed, it is the nail needs to be talked about.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.