Contributed by Vic Kohring
"Kill 'em with kindness." Charisse Millette, my former staff assistant and future legislator used to say this when encountering rude and difficult people in my Juneau office years ago. Instead of challenging or arguing with a constituent, Charisse would remain polite and respectful, and not give in to the temptation of fighting back simply for the sake of winning an argument. I've remembered her advice and try to adhere to it to this day.
The fast-paced world of 2019 seems more stress-filled and pressure-packed than ever, with more people on edge than I've ever witnessed. The slow-moving, little sleepy town of Wasilla has given way to a metropolis reminiscent of a chaotic southern California suburb.
Each day I deal with difficult situations from aggressive drivers on the road to people dashing to and fro in the grocery store and cutting in front of you, to curt people on the phone who wish to debate rather than engage in cordial conversation. I found the same thing in the political arena, where many self-centered pols clammer to get ahead and don't think twice stepping on others to advance their careers.
When facing conflict, no matter how wrong you think a person may be, whether a customer in the case of business or a voter in the case of politics, it's important to make them feel they're always right despite how wrong you think (and know) they are. Or at least make them feel their point of view is respected and merits consideration. Otherwise, you may win the argument and experience a brief feeling of satisfaction, but you've lost their support if they're made to feel beat or put down.
There's a place for calling people out, to hold them to account for their bad behavior, but most often we should look the other way and avoid confrontation. Politely express your opinion and then leave it at that. Jesus called it turning the other cheek, meaning don't engage in personal retaliation. It's a form of shaming others into correcting their behavior, but also a form of witnessing to others and letting them know you have God living in your heart by displaying the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.
I'm only human and frequently err when dealing with people, failing to uphold the high standards I expect others to follow. One of the most difficult things for me is to be long-suffering and patient with people who don't meet my standards of conduct, who appear as selfish narcissists and think only of themselves. Once while in office, I had to deal with a certain colleague's jealousy, a tactless individual man who claimed to support me but would then undermine me.
During a special session of the legislature, my colleague went out of his way to say derogatory things to a reporter about me over false allegations that I did not live in my district, throwing fuel on the fire and hurting my standing with voters. Instead of forgiving him for his backstabbing and praying for my abuser, I confronted him only to be cursed on the House Floor during a break in the proceedings.
I frequently ask God to give me the strength and patience to deal with such situations. As with most and being the imperfect Christian that I am, I tend to lack the necessary fortitude to successfully confront hostility. It takes an extra effort when my instincts tell me to be defensive and fight back.
Whenever I face a difficult person, instead of challenging them, I try to neutralize the situation with kindness. Simple courtesy and friendliness go a long way. And I try to see things from their perspective, that they may be having a bad day or are experiencing a family problem or life crisis. It's easier said than done, but it keeps my conscience clean and helps win their respect.
"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." – Ephesians 4:32