Responding is teaching

  • Sumo

Who of you fathers, if his son says, “Hey moron, give me a drink”, would not give him a clip round the ear?

If my children were as rude to me as the above imaginary comment, there would certainly be a ‘serious father-child moment’!

I admit I’ve twisted what Jesus said (see┬áLuke 11:11-13, Matthew 7:9-11). But the above is what I thought after overhearing the following exchange:

Daughter: “[Screech, moan, whine, fake tears. Accusingly pointed finger.]”
Mum: “Well you stood up. He can sit there if he wants.”

That is, there was a conversation where whining behaviour counted as words. And both participants behaved as if this communication was perfectly normal.

How does such a pattern become normal? It’s not normal when the whinger whinges. It becomes normal when the responder responds normally. The reply determines where the conversation will go. In my mind, the power in conversations lies with the person who replies.

That power can be used poorly, or with great effect. When my kids grunt at me, obviously thirsty or hungry, I could choose simply to give them what they want. My power of reply teaches, ‘It’s OK when you grunt – keep doing it.’ You can guess what they will do next time hunger strikes.

Or I could choose to say, ‘I will not get that for you until you use words.’

How I respond teaches what is acceptable. Responding is teaching.

Sometimes this raises a difficult dilemma. The perfect illustration of this is in Proverbs 26:4-5. Both pieces of wisdom are true, but you may only choose one way in a given situation. Nevertheless, the principle holds: responding is teaching.

Where this works out extends to many places. It’s not simply a parent and child pattern. It’s also:

  • How we listen to the boss at work
  • How we treat the referee or umpire
  • The active or passive response we make to advertising
  • Our tone of voice to the teacher
  • The learned dynamics of a Bible study group
  • The way we gain attention (or reward people) in churches
  • How we behave when driving

To go again to the book of Proverbs:

To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!
(Proverbs 15:23)

So now the power is in your hands. How will you respond?