Saturday, 30 July 2011

Just Something People Say

We have the builders in and I hope and pray the outcome will be a nice new bathroom. A situation like this does not fill a person with confidence and I am sure I’m not the only one who finds it all very stressful.

It took weeks – even months - to get to this point with the first plumber mysteriously disappearing, then the second plumber not being available the same time as the plasterer then the roles were reversed and the plasterer couldn’t make it the same time as the plumber. Finally it was sorted out (we thought) when the plasterer said he couldn’t come after all because he “had a big job on but will ring when he’s free.” I am still waiting for the call and the term “hell will freeze over first” springs to mind

Another plasterer has turned up and things are actually happening but not without a few more problems with scheduling. I didn’t know for sure the plumber would make it until the morning he turned up to take out the old bathroom and so I couldn’t give the plasterer the notice he would have liked but, hero that he is, he turned up anyway and fitted us in somehow. If anyone in Swansea and environs needs a good plasterer I can recommend this one. The plumber has turned out alright too – in the end.

In all this what was interesting was the way the conversations went as we tried to negotiate this nightmare and smooth over the frustrations and misunderstandings that seem inevitable in these circumstances.

As I told my sorry tale to the plumber his response was, “Plasterers! They are a nightmare. You can’t depend on them.”

When I apologised to the plasterer for giving such short notice and explained about the plumber he said, “Oh, you know what plumbers are like.”

These two men are not going to meet, at least not on this job, but if they did I am confident they would close ranks, share horror stories and say, “Oh, you know what customers are like. They’re a nightmare to deal with.”

It has nothing, or little to do with the facts and my experience is that there are good tradesmen and bad, as I am sure there are good customers and bad. Its just what people say in those awkward moments when they need to move on from an unfortunate conflict of schedules and ideas to a place where they can be comfortable with each other again and get the job done.

When two parties have fallen out, had a misunderstanding we must find some common ground on which to stand and to start all over again if we are going to move on. At such times what we agree we are against is an easier option than what we agree upon. This may have started with a misunderstanding between us but we are very good at redirecting our frustrations by reference to an absent “other” which we can all agree is the real fly in the ointment (Eccl.10:1) Having laid the blame elsewhere, we can mend fences, build bridges, on the basis that “its not me and its not you – its them!”

When we are talking about plasterers and plumbers no real harm is done and it is, after all, just something people say. We just need to remember that and take it all with a pinch of salt saying, “One day we will look back on this and laugh.” But talking this way about the “other” can be harmful when it becomes gossip and the character and reputation of the absent “other” can receive real damage. Then it becomes personal and the “other” becomes a real victim and not just the butt of your fleeting frustrations.

I hope the talk behind my back is no more than run of the mill “something people say” and maybe I should remember when speaking of others that the things I say can cause real damage. The New Testament leader James wrote:

“The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire…no man can tame the tongue, it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison…(James 3:3-12)

But what good we can do with our speech if we just realise it. Just “something we say” can encourage, inspire, lift up, strengthen resolve, contribute to building good character in ourselves and others. What potential for good God has given us in this gift of speech – if we consider carefully how we use it.

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