Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Even When It's True?

"Never say 'never' and 'always.'"

My mom drilled this into our heads from the time we were young.  We'd fight, and argue, and inevitably accuse each other of things - whether true or untrue - and nine times out of ten, someone would end up spitting out a phrase containing one - or both - of those words.

"You always take that plate when you know it's my favorite!"
"You never let me pick out the movie we're going to watch!"
"You always pick that movie when you know I hate it!"
"You never let me play video games with you!"

As adults, it's way too easy to let the words creep back into our vocabulary, especially when we're angry or frustrated.  The shell words change, but the implications do not.

In parenting...

"You never pick up after yourself."
"Why is it that you never do your chores completely?"
"You always leave your toys out!"
"You always leave your dirty clothes on the bathroom floor."

"You never listen to me!!"

And in marriage...

"You always leave your dirty socks on the floor."
"You never put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher."
"You always turn on the brightest light in the morning, even when I'm still sleeping."
"You never throw your dirty Kleenexes in the garbage."

"You never listen to me!!!"

"You never practice what you preach!"

The reason my mom drilled it into us as kids not to use these words when arguing, is because such absolutes are almost never true - do my kids REALLY leave their toys out every single time they play with them? or does my husband REALLY leave every single pair of dirty socks on the floor?


But what if they really DO do something the same "wrong" way every single time??  I have a memory, as my dad used to say, like a steel trap.  It is rare that I forget something (a lot less rare now that I'm a mom! HA!)  Let me rephrase - it's not rare that I forget to do something, but it IS rare that I forget details related to any given incident.  In other words, if one of my kids truly does forget to put the washcloth in the laundry every single time, I will remember it.  And it will not be an exaggeration.

I say this not to brag.  It's actually kind of a curse.  Here's why.

Even if it's true that my husband or one of my kids always does this or never does that, I should still NEVER use the unacceptable words.  And for someone with an excellent memory, who is by nature black-and-white, detailed, straight-forward, and perfectionistic about being accurate, it is VERY HARD for me not to say always and never, when they truly do apply.

Why shouldn't I use them if they are true, you say?  My husband NEEDS to know he ALWAYS leaves his wet towel on the floor, you say?  My kids NEED to know they NEVER do that chore the right way, you say?

No they don't.

1.  Absolutes create defensiveness.  Think about it.  When someone tells you that you "always" or "never," isn't your first response to deny the accusation?  

2.  Absolutes create extremes in confidence.  In cases such as the examples given above, negative extremes.  If someone feels like they never do anything right, eventually they will stop believing they CAN do it right, and they will stop trying.

3.  Absolutes leave no room for grace.  I can't tell my kids they NEVER do such and such, and follow it with a way to help them change the behavior, and expect them to believe me.  I can't teach my children grace or be a helpmate to my husband while sending the message that they don't do anything right. Absolutes and grace mix even less well than oil and water, and mixed messages never achieve positive ends.

Ultimately I want to show God's grace and mercy to my family, more than I want to be "right."  And in the end, I can't do that if I use "always" and "never" or any other similar words.

1 comment:

  1. Grace and mercy. Very important components in a marriage and in raising children. You've learned your mother's lesson well.