Occasionally I get asked if I am going to talk about the value of adding “I feel…” and other softeners before statements to help confrontation be more palatable.
Your wish is my command! Yet I owe you a heads up – my take has a bit of a twist to it. This may go in a different direction than you typically hear…
I was talking with my husband about some of these statements, and his response well captured my concern.
Let’s take this statement as an example:
“You have a hateful heart.”
What if we put “I feel” in front of that?
“I feel like you have a hateful heart.”
Does that soften it and make it more palatable? This was my husband’s response. I just love it!
“That’s like putting ‘I feel’ in front of a loaded machine gun.”
A loaded machine gun.
I call things like ‘I feel’ and ‘I perceive’ and ‘I think’ pillows. Putting them around loaded machine guns may disguise the gun a bit, but the gun is still destructive.
Remember, presuming to know a person’s thoughts and motives and negatively characterizing them is verbal abuse. Putting pillows around it simply makes it a negative characterization with a pillow. It doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of the characterization. The words still have the power to “pierce like swords” (Proverbs 12:18). They still have the potential to “destroy [our] neighbors” (Proverbs 11:9).
And in fact, they may actually be more destructive. Crazy, right? When someone seems calm and talks in a caring voice and puts ‘I feel’ or some other ‘pillow’ in front of their statement, the blow doesn’t seem as obvious. Verbal abuse seems easier to identify if someone is raging and yelling. Yet a seemingly calm, caring, ‘I feel’ conversation can easily be filled with verbal abuse. Because it appears less destructive, because it seems like it might be an ‘I feel’ statement, we may be tricked into believing we should entertain destructive thoughts. They sneak in unawares as we seek to understand what is actually abusive thinking. Those sneaky rascals can be so insidious! Disguising the blow may actually – ironically – make it *more* destructive.
A fool does not delight in understanding,
But only in revealing his own mind.
~ Proverbs 18:2
Putting ‘I perceive’ or ‘I think’ in front of a ‘you’ statement does not make one not a fool. In fact – and this is quite a twist! – it may actually be a trigger that ’delighting in airing his mind’ is just what he is doing.
Yet helping people be fools is not our passion.
Putting feathers around machine guns is not our passion.
Pillows are not our passion.
Our passion is fundamentally changing the way that we think about and approach others. Because it keeps relationships clean and healthy. Because it is filled with life and vitality. Because it works. Because it avoids verbal abuse. Because it is what the Lord desires. Because it honors Him. Because it keeps from destroying fellow believers. Because it keeps from helping the devil. Because it keeps believers strong to do the Lord’s work. Because it builds God’s kingdom. Because it makes His kingdom more attractive to those not yet in it! Because it is more attractive. Because it is of the Lord.
And that’s worlds better than a pillow!