Last night my daughter, Anna, came home and told me I shared some information with someone that she didn’t want shared. In my mind, it really wasn’t a big deal. Come to find out, it was to her. When she delivered this news of accusation, I found myself immediately getting on the defensive, and rather than accept that I was wrong, I tried to prove I was right. Call me a slow learner.
When you step back and look at how you handle conflict, do you find yourself jumping into attack mode, defense mode, or competition mode, all to protect yourself, your inner sense of self-justification, or your “rights”? I do.
The late Henri Nouwen once described how “feathered friends” taught him some significant lessons on his use of defense mechanisms for self-protection or to get his own way (The Genesee Diary, 108).
For example, the Killdeer is a bird that simulates injury in order to pull your attention away from her nest which she builds on a sandy place. How many times do we try to divert people’s attention away from the real issue by playing on the sympathies of others? We simulate in order to sidestep: “Yes, I know you think I let you down by not showing up the other day, but you don’t understand what happened to me yesterday.”
The Cowbird lays her eggs in another bird’s nest to let them do the brooding, and then she does the raising once hatched. This is where we put the monkey on someone else’s back in order to avoid responsibility: “No, this problem isn’t mine. Look at what she’s done to me.”
The Oriole mimics the sounds of more dangerous birds to keep the enemies away. We could call this the intimidation tactic: “I sound tough. I sound smart. I can rip you to shreds verbally. I can out-talk, out-smart, and out-do you, so you’d better leave me alone!”
The Red-winged blackbird screams so loud overhead that you get tired of her noise and leave the area she has claimed as her own. This is the shouting method: “I’ll keep yelling at you at the top of my lungs because I’m right, you’re wrong, and eventually you’ll give up!”
Fortunately, I didn’t use any of these defense mechanisms on Anna. I started to, because my default mode is self-preservation. I want to protect my ego, pride, and sense of self-worth. But what I continue to learn from Jesus is that the more I die to self, the more I rise to self-fulfillment.
So, what did I say to Anna? The five words that will help grow any relationship—when they are spoken from the heart: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
I challenge you to center your relationships on seeking to understand rather than defending your pride. Follow the Apostle Paul’s prescription to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4, ESV).