Back when we lived in Japan, our church’s copy machine was a Ricoh machine. I’m not sure how copiers here in the States are serviced and maintained, but there, our church didn’t own the machine outright. They more or less leased it from Ricoh, and a representative would come out to Urasoe City, there in Okinawa, to do all of the maintenance on it from time to time.
And that machine? Had a lot of maintenance issues. So there were always plenty of opportunities for the Ricoh man to come to the church. And show up he did, fresh off his motorcycle, in a three piece suit and tie, helmet underneath his arm, where he would stop at the sight of Wes and bow from the waist, far lower than was customary between two colleagues.
I think this was always a bit of fun for Wes. Okay, so I know this was fun for him. Because the Ricoh man? Would bow lower than normal for the “sensei,” the honored teacher, the man of the cloth and all. And Wes, being a goofy American who wanted to honor the Ricoh man in a likewise fashion? Would bow even lower.
Which put our Japanese friend in a pickle of sorts. He couldn’t be the first up because it would suggest that he thought himself higher than Wes, who was the customer. And like I said, a sensei! On and on they’d continue to bow, lower and lower, until Wes would finally give in and stand up straight, allowing the Ricoh man to continue on for a moment of reverence until he would mercifully stand and get on with business.
(And when he left? More of the same, with the Ricoh man actually bowing and walking backwards, until he was out of the building, where Wes would laugh and say something about how AWESOME Japanese culture is. Unless you’re the Ricoh man and have to deal with foreign idiots like this on a normal basis. But I digress, y’all.)
We got in a conversation with a friend the other day about conflict. What do you do when you’re the one who’s right? What do you do when you have no reason to apologize? How do you resolve a situation when the fault clearly lies on one side?
Wes said something that was worth repeating. “You know, there’s rarely an argument where one person carries all the fault,” he said. “And even if that’s the case? Well, it still probably won’t be resolved until BOTH people can admit some blame. Or failing that, just to admit to being sorry that the argument even started in the first place.”
I can think back to some of the times I’ve been really, truly wronged in life. And I can remember how hard it was to admit any blame, especially in those rare (oh so very rare!) instances where I had no fault. And holding onto my righteousness, to my sense of justice, to my right to say, “It’s all YOUR fault!!!”? Yeah, that did nothing to resolve anything. It only created more bitterness and took me farther away from a peaceful solution — for the other person, for my relationship with them, and for myself, honestly.
The hard truth is that there’s nothing more disarming than to humbly and genuinely apologize. Even if the fault isn’t yours, there’s nothing better than saying simply that you’re sorry — sorry that things have worked out this way, that feelings have been hurt, and that the situation has progressed to what it has. We can all honestly apologize like that, bow ourselves (so to speak), and begin there, searching for a way to reconcile.
If relationships are worth saving, and I’ve got to believe that they are, then we all have to be a little like the Ricoh man and Wes on all those days in the office, willing to come in and honor one another so as to establish mutual respect, empathy, and understanding. Even if the man you’re honoring is a silly American — hey, you honor yourself by honoring another person.
I’ve been thinking about difficult it is, in marriage particularly, to practice this. And I can see firsthand in relationships all around me how it only takes just a little bit of unwillingness to humble ourselves, even before those who have wronged us, to begin to sow seeds of dissension and separation in our marriages. This scares me to death, y’all, because I know there could be any number of “good” reasons to let bitterness seep in, reasons that even Christ-loving and honoring friends would applaud, and how it could be the beginning of the end. And what are you left with, when everything has fallen apart, and you can stand by the fact that you were somehow right in all of it?
It just doesn’t seem worth it, does it?
Taking these things to heart lately, praising God that I’m one-flesh with a man who really GETS this concept, and praying that none of us would be deceived into thinking, in any of our relationships, that it’s more important to be right than it is to be right with one another.