Do You Get the Point?
GIVING counsel and correction to others is an art. Receiving counsel is also an art. An expert counselor is empathic; he is kind; he chooses his words with tact and makes an effort to avoid unduly hurting the feelings of his listener. But his main purpose is to make sure that the person who needs help understands the point of the counsel. Much will depend on whether the one being corrected has cultivated the art of being a good listener.
To receive the full benefit of counsel it is essential to have the proper frame of mind. Today, people have a marked tendency to “blow up” as soon as someone begins to call some fault to their attention. They do not really hear, much less reason on what is being said to them. They would do well to heed the advice of one of Jesus’ disciples who said, “Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” (Jas. 1:19) If you are being corrected, make an effort to get into this frame of mind quickly.
It is not difficult to know when some counsel is forthcoming. In the first place, you may be aware of something that has taken place in your life that might require some correction. Then, too, it is not every day that an overseer invites you to sit down for a “little chat.” A good counselor will usually preface his words of correction with some merited praise or commendation. So if this happens to you, while you should not become immediately suspicious and think the praise is insincere, keep in mind that a few valuable suggestions may follow. Prepare to accept them humbly.
NEED FOR DISCERNMENT
But having the proper frame of mind is not all that is necessary to get the point of counsel. You will also need discernment. Remember, your counselor has probably thought at length about this conversation and has tried to make a good choice of words and thoughts. The matter of counsel may never be mentioned; he may simply tell you that he would like to make a “suggestion” or two. Do you get that point? He will also endeavor to be tactful and may speak to you in an indirect way, perhaps using an illustration. So it may be necessary for you to think, not only of what is said, but also of what is being left unsaid to avoid hurting your feelings or embarrassing you. Perhaps you will get the full impact of his words by thinking of how a less tactful, less loving person might put it to you.
Let us take an example from true life. A good one is found in the Bible at 2 Samuel 12:1-14. King David of Israel had committed a grievous sin by coveting another man’s wife, having sexual relations with her and then having her husband murdered. Jehovah sent the prophet Nathan to give David the necessary correction. Nathan began with an illustration: “There were two men that happened to be in one city, the one rich and the other of little means.” These opening words—and undoubtedly Nathan’s tone of voice—should have been sufficient to set David thinking seriously. But apparently not. Nathan continued with his illustration. A traveler came to visit the rich man, but instead of preparing a meal for him from his own abundant flocks, he appropriated from the man of little means his one and only female lamb that, as was customary among poor Israelites, had grown up with his sons and had become as a daughter to him. David, the ex-shepherd, was incensed. “David’s anger grew very hot against the man, so that he said to Nathan: ‘As Jehovah is living, the man doing this deserves to die!’”
Yes, he was incensed, but he failed to get the point. He had failed to see himself as the rich man, Uriah as the man of little means and Bath-sheba as the small female lamb. He had failed to discern what Nathan had left unsaid, so it could be left unsaid no longer. “You yourself are the man!” were Nathan’s next words, and how David was cut by them! But he was not resentful. He humbly confessed his error and accepted the punishment.
Of course, a Christian counselor should not speak in riddles or “beat around the bush.” This is not what Nathan did. He used an illustration to prepare the ground, but when this was insufficient he became very direct. Read the remainder of the account in your Bible and you will see that he in no way minimized the extent of David’s sin. But there was nothing objectionable in the way his counsel was given.
While using discernment to get the full impact and benefit from counsel, one should be careful not to go to the other extreme and take more than is intended from the words of his counselor. Use your imagination, but do not let it run away with you. If you do, you may harbor unfair and untrue thoughts about someone who made a sincere effort to try to help you.
Counsel given sincerely is an expression of love, and it is to be received in the same way. ‘Love does not keep account of the injury. It believes all things’—that is, all that is good and upbuilding about one’s associates.—1 Cor. 13:4-7; Prov. 27:6.
So as to avoid misunderstandings you would do well, on receiving correction, to let your counselor know that you do indeed get the point. A more discerning David might have stopped Nathan at the end of his illustration and said something like, ‘Oh, you mean me and Uriah?’ Had he done so, Nathan might have been able to save some of his more direct words. Perhaps he could have let David finish out the counsel himself and asked him what he thought should be done about it, before announcing Jehovah’s sentence. So make it clear that you do understand. This will give your counselor the satisfaction of knowing that the suggestions were well received. Otherwise, he may feel that he should try again and in a more direct way, and this could mean unnecessary irritation for both.
There is no doubt that when we make mistakes—and all of us do—there will be need for correction. This is for our good, because “in the multitude of counselors there is salvation.” Knowing how to give and receive counsel makes for smooth and productive working conditions. There is a feeling of accomplishment, upbuilding and mutual confidence, together with a total absence of outbursts of wrath and hurt feelings.—Prov. 24:6.