April 26, August 26, December 26
Chapter 68: If a Sister Is Commanded to Do Impossible Things
If it happens
that difficult or impossible tasks are laid on a sister,
let her nevertheless receive the order of the one in authority
with all meekness and obedience.
But if she sees that the weight of the burden
altogether exceeds the limit of her strength,
let her submit the reasons for her inability
to the one who is over her
in a quiet way and at an opportune time,
without pride, resistance, or contradiction.
And if after these representations
the Superior still persists in her decision and command,
let the subject know that this is for her good,
and let her obey out of love,
trusting in the help of God.
Buried in chapters whose names may throw us off there are usually
gems, one just has to dig a bit more carefully. Granted, impossible
tasks are rarely asked of anyone these days, much less Oblates who
live outside the monastery, but there is a beautiful method given
here which has the widest of applications.
Most interpersonal conflict arises from one being or feeling wronged.
Escalation often follows when one tries to express their displeasure
to the offender. Even people who are truly wrong do not enjoy being
humiliated or treated as if they were nothing. Upset by another's
actions, it is easy to lose one's cool. When both parties blow up, a
relentless cycle of discord is born.
The method given here for approaching one's superior is a masterpiece
of crisis intervention and prevention for almost any situation in
"...in a quiet way and at an opportune time, without pride,
resistance, or contradiction."
We ought to carve that on the walls of every mediation center in the
world, on the doors to every marriage counselor and above every
complaint desk (or, as they euphemize them these days, "Customer
Service," but what's in a name?)
Look at what is called for here: composure and calm, timing, respect
for the other person (Gandhi would even say love for the foe,) non-
violence and non-contentiousness. Use this approach with
disagreements and many of them will melt away. One reason Gandhi's
non-violence worked was that he employed all of these things, the
opponent was never denied her worth or dignity. When his followers
pared the list, they failed. This is the recipe for lasting results,
not for a temporary subjugation.
Jesus, of course, gives us a three step process to redress wrongs: go
to the person alone, if that doesn't work go with a witness, if even
that fails, then haul them up before the whole assembly. We can
consider ourselves absolved if we follow all those steps and may feel
justified, but if we undertake ANY of those steps, especially the
first one, without the calm prescribed by St. Benedict, our effort is
all but guaranteed to fail. We can sputter out: "I went to her and I
got NOWHERE!" Ah, yes, but HOW did you go? "He wouldn't even listen
to the whole community!" Neither would you, if made to feel that
small and worthless in public.
Very often our manner of dealing with others says a great deal about
how we esteem ourselves. A balanced dignity and self-love is shown in
the Holy Rule's approach. It will go a longer way toward ending
conflict than a "wronged prima donna" move. Very often prima donnas
of either gender are filled with angry self-hatred.
Watch people fight and it will be easy to see that many consider any
slight or offense against themselves to be THE original sin. Sigh...
Give people like that a lot of room. Being wrong is not a capital
offense, everybody does it at one time or another. People who
demonstrate anything else by their actions damage their own standing
in the group as well, and rightly so.
Remember that every disagreement hurts the whole group. A family at
dinner with two not speaking is a tense affair. You cannot calm a
child by saying "This is between your Father and me! It has nothing
to do with you." But it does, it really does. A community in choir
after a huge blow-up between two members is not an exquisite taste of
mystical prayer. Everybody suffers. That's why fixing these fender-
benders is so important and why St. Benedict gave us a way that is so
very likely to achieve results.
Now THAT'S creative peacemaking!
Love and prayers,