As we enter into strife with others, as we become agitated, defensive or oppressive in trying to control a situation, the outcome is seldom good; we’re actually forbidden to do this (Php 2:3), since our striving is generally rooted in pride. (Pr 28:5)
Calming ourselves down and getting ourselves grounded again in God is certainly the first step (2Ti 2:24), yet this is only part of the equation; when others are pursuing contention (Pr 26:21), knowing how to deescalate and avoid strife is invaluable. (Pr 19:11)
A de-escalation technique recommended in scripture is a soft answer (Pr 15:1), which comprises more than a gentle, unassuming posture or tone. It might be couched in this general demeaner, and perhaps often should be (Mt 10:16), but it can be much more subtle and powerful. (Pr 25:15)
For example, calmly repeating back what we hear, asking for clarification, confirmation and agreement on intent, is offering an accuser an opportunity to think through their words and stand by them under cross-examination. It gently introduces a bit of accountability without being aggressive or confrontational. This is softness, but not weakness. (Jn 18:23) It actually demonstrates strength, for only a mature, stable, secure soul can tread unthreatened out into the vast, uncertain territory of Accusation. Further, it clearly tells our accuser they’re valued, and that they’ve been heard and understood. With a person of good will, this might be all we need to disarm them.
Calmly and thoughtfully summarizing and re-stating a claim dispenses with emotionalism, and this will invariably both weaken the accusation itself (for, we tend to emotionally charge claims when evidence itself is insufficient) and confront any manipulation, irrationality and/or inconsistency without retaliating. If the claim has merit at all, this will distill and clarify the relevant substance for inspection.
Then we might also explore the implications of an accusation, as if we’re a neutral investigator, asking if the ramifications were thought through and intended, and how any apparent inconsistencies have been resolved. (Mt 12:2-4) Doing this does not strengthen false accusation; invariably it brings truth and light to bear, exposing any darkness for what it is. Showing any implication of a claim to be false proves the claim itself is false: it’s proof by contradiction.
People often speak emotionally within a specific context, perspective or presupposition which is not apparent to others, or perhaps even to themselves. Asking insightful questions exposes these presuppositions and allows them to be analyzed thoughtfully, challenged and corrected as needed. (Mk 10:18) This is helpful to all who are engaged in conflict.
Another key, when people accuse, is to remind ourselves they may indeed be entirely wrong, merely telling us something about themselves and nothing at all about us.
We’re often much too quick to accept an accusation as authoritative, without realizing we need not defend ourselves or be intimidated. It’s in trying to protect our own vulnerability and hide our imperfections that we’re lured into resisting groundless accusations and defending ourselves when this is entirely unnecessary. (1Pe 2:23)
And if an accusation happens to be legit, even partly, humility rejoices in discovering another opportunity to grow, makes amends, and asks God for grace to overcome, unconcerned in the efforts to shame, disvalue or belittle, resting in ultimate security in God. (Php 4:7)
When we take ourselves too seriously, thinking too highly of ourselves (Ro 12:3), that we’re something when we aren’t, we’re deceiving ourselves (Ga 6:3); this isn’t Love (1Jn 2:16), it’s the pride of life. When our mind is stayed on God, grounded in Love (Ep 3:17), we’ll be at perfect peace. (Is 26:3)
One thought on “A Soft Answer”
An accusation is either at least partially true or it is entirely baseless and untrue.
Any merit in an accusation provides an opportunity to grow, for which we should be genuinely thankful.
Baseless accusations should not anger or threaten us; the moral evaluations of others should be a very small thing to us. Don’t be a man-pleaser.