by Fr. George Morelli
What to Do When One’s “Truth” Does Not Match the “Others'” Truth
““Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”” (Jn 18: 37)
“If silence is more necessary even during conversation about good matters, how much more so in matters that are indifferent?” –St. John of Gaza
How many times have we found ourselves confronting someone who has a completely different viewpoint about something than ours? The different perception can be about a variety of matters, from the sacred to the mundane. Different perceptions of what is true can occur between spouses, parents, children, friends, parishioners, Christians and non-Christians.
Christians are especially prone to fall into being prosecutors for the truth because of the emphasis on Christ Himself as truth and the understanding of His teaching by the Holy Spirit-inspired Church. St. John starts his Gospel, proclaiming the Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus, as Truth:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (Jn 1:14).
Furthermore, St. John proclaims this same Jesus brought truth to us:
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (Jn 1:17).
Only in truth can God be worshipped:
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:24).
Moreover, if one is a true Christian one must act in truth:
“Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’” (Jn 8:31–32).
Falsity equated with evil
In fact Jesus and subsequently those who followed Him equated lack of truth with evil and the evil one. St. John conveys the words of Jesus on this matter:
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44).
The need for truth expressed by the Church Fathers
The importance of truth is expressed well by St. Maximus the Confessor:
“Truth is Divine Knowledge, and virtue the struggles for truth on the part of those who desire it.” (Philokalia II, p 188).
St. Maximus goes on to tell us:
“When goodness and truth are attained, nothing can afflict the soul’s capacity for practicing the virtues …” (p. 215).
St. Ilias the Presbyter points out:
“Mercy and truth precede all the other virtues.” (Philokakia III p 34).
The truth in the name of the Church and her Divine Liturgy
The word orthodox, as in the name Orthodox Church, can be defined as right or true. During the Divine Liturgy we pray for our hierarch, that the Lord grant His Churches grace that they may continue
“rightly dividing [dispensing] the word of thy truth.”
The hymn sung immediately after reception of the Eucharist, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ during the Divine Liturgy unequivocally centers on truth: “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity: for He hath saved us.”
Personal interpretation versus Jesus’ response
Some Christians apply the words of Christ to themselves, however giving these words a very un-Christ-like personal interpretation. They ask the same question Christ asked to those who did not believe in Him. But the Christian asks this question to those who hold a different view about something they hold:
“If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (Jn 8:46)
But unlike Jesus they have an irrational “demanding expectation” that if it is true, the other must acquiesce to the truth. At times this cognitive distortion even incites anger (Morelli, 2005). The problem is Jesus did not have a demanding expectation that others accede.
As God, the Second Person the Holy Trinity created mankind with free will, and Jesus continued to respect that free will during His public life on earth (as He told us He would honor our free will for all eternity as well). Jesus asks the question to challenge the thinking of His detractors and offer them a chance to affirm Him as God. But through their own faulty reasoning they came to the opposite conclusion that He was not God, but rather was a demon. Jesus response to this falsity was of great consequence. After His affirmation of Himself as God:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (Jn 8: 59). He did not fight or argue with those who would stone Him. St. John records: “… but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.” (Jn 8:59).
“Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews seized Jesus and bound him.” (Jn 18: 11-12).
“And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate wondered.” (Mk 15: 2-5).
Avoiding confrontation while modeling Jesus: The disarming technique
Jesus did speak the truth, and then left it up to His hearers to accept or not accept what He had to say. If what He had to say was accepted, then these listeners became His disciples. If what He said was not accepted, Jesus avoided confrontation. In clinical or pastoral situations I have attempted to follow this same model incorporating a non-confrontational practice called the Disarming Technique.
After expressing your view to a person and it is rejected, disarming becomes a powerful way to deflect conflict. Basically it makes a neutral statement about the other individual’s response. One does not have to agree to what was said and what you consider false, so truth as you see does not have to be compromised. This is especially important if the truth you expressed and that was rejected by another individual reflects the orthodox teaching of Christ and His Church.
Some representative Disarming Responses:
“Hum! That’s an idea;”
“That is one way of looking at it;”
“That’s a possibility;”
“That’s a point to consider.”
If the person you are communicating with is a friend and you want to maintain the friendship and they keep pursuing the point a last effort communication might be:
“Well if we want to keep our friendship, we will just have to agree to disagree on this point.”
A personal non-pastoral example
Over the years I have had parishioners and patients tell me what car to buy, where to go on vacation, what movie to go to see, and where to dine out. When some suggestions fit my personality and interests, I thank the individual and the discussion goes no further. Some suggestions are far away from any interest I have. So I usually respond first by saying truthfully:
“Thanks, but that is not something that interests me.”
Some people are very persistent; they continue trying to convince me. So I usually respond:
“Ok thanks! I’ll look into it.”
Sometimes a person tells me about something they really enjoy and strongly recommends I would also enjoy and insist that I try it. I once had a patient who loved golf and played almost every day. Now personally (no offense intended to golfers), ‘for me’ to run around hills and dales hitting and chasing a little white ball is incomprehensible, a complete waste of time, meaningless and pure psychological torture. But I can genuinely, or rather truthfully, appreciate others’ joy and delight in something that does not fit my interests, but fits theirs. So a typical response on my part would be:
“Boy, I see you really enjoy the game, that is great, who knows, someday I might find myself golfing too.”
Even though I hold a strong opinion now, I do not know the future, only God does, thus I cannot rule out anything. Another example: a patient came to my office and insisted I see her new car. It was a shocking pink color. For me the color pink is on the same level as golf. But I was genuinely happy at her happiness. I told her sincerely how great it was to see her so excited about her car and the way it looked. At times I have had to elevate disarming one notch by being assertive (Morelli, 2006). If she had persisted and wanted to know if I liked the color, I would have to tell her in truth:
“Well, it is not my taste; but you have no idea how happy I am you like it so much.”
The first part of the sentence about it not being my taste would be said softly, the second part of the sentence about my happiness for her would be intoned with enthusiasm. I have used such responses many times, thank God, with great success.
A pastoral example
At times I have had a parishioner or a member of another church community try to convince me of something that is contrary to the teaching of Christ and His Church. Of course I try to state the point in the spirit of the Synodicon of the Orthodox Faith as recited in Eastern Churches on the Sunday of Orthodoxy:
“… as Wisdom has presented, as Christ has awarded … as the Apostles have taught, as the Church has received …”.
If still not accepted, I then merely say, ‘Well, that’s one viewpoint, I am simply expressing what the teaching of the Orthodox Church is on this matter.’ For example, I have had some secularist nominal Christians tell me that same sex marriage can be blessed, or some feminist nominal Christians say woman can be ordained to the priesthood. I point out in charity the truth of the impossibility of such practices and the reasons why. If not accepted, I end with the response said in charitable tone:
“Well that is your personal view, I am simply echoing the Mind of Christ and His Church.” (Morelli, 2009, 2010)
By using the disarming technique in this way I pray I am interiorizing the Mind of Christ who accepted the free will of his human creatures. It is also important to point out that I try not to be judgmental of the person as an individual and start out only by discussing the Church’s view on the issue. Speaking the truth and then disarming is done in the spirit of St. Paul who tells us:
“speak evil of no one …avoid quarreling …be gentle” (Titus 3:2)
and keeping in mind the words of Jesus about the acts of a group who had left the Church as recorded by St. John
“… you hate the deeds … which I also hate” (Rev. 2: 6).
Especially for those opposing us on matters of Christ’s teaching, we can apply to ourselves the instruction given by Jesus to his Apostles as how to go out into the world and teach His words. St. Matthew (10:13–14) records:
“And if the house is worthy, let our peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”
On trivial matters, those matters that are indifferent, we can follow the advice of St. John of Gaza: Silence is golden.
“Truth without humility is blind. That is why it becomes contentious: it tries to support itself on something, and find nothing except rancour.” St. Ilias the Presbyter (Philolalia III p 39)