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Is Your Dignity at Stake, or Just Your Pride?

For more on appropriate confrontation, see My Path from Doormat to Dignity:  Part V – The Truth in Action


Romans 13:10 (NIV)

Love does no harm to a neighbor.


How can we speak the truth and stand our ground with others without needlessly wounding them?  Preserving dignity is the goal – our own and that of others.   But when emotions run high, it's easy for dignity to morph into pride.  When it does, we invariably harm others – don't let it happen.


Conflict handled with dignity and grace can lead to understanding, trust, and intimacy. But there is a fine line between dignity and pride; and when pride rears its ugly head, a bad outcome is guaranteed!   Like pouring gas on a fire – the original offense may pale in comparison to the slings and arrows fired off with pride's destructive heat.


Generally, pride manifests itself by the excessive, inappropriate use of power as a display of superiority. Dignity, on the other hand, exercises necessary, measured power with a constructive intent.   So, when conflict arises, how can we put the brakes on pride without sacrificing dignity?



·         Pride is quick to criticize – for real or imagined offences.

·         Dignity choses its battles and only takes people to task for real, significant wrongs that directly impact the one protesting them.


·         Pride exaggerates offenses, addresses a boatload of issues, or brings up irrelevant history.

·         Dignity says what needs to be said – without exaggerating or minimizing – using as few words as possible, without excessive force, avoiding sensitive buttons and sweeping generalizations.  Dignity sticks to the issue at hand.


·         Pride gangs up on the other person by speaking for others: "It's not just me – everybody has a problem with you!"

·         Dignity only speaks for itself.


·         Pride must tie up every loose end.

·         Dignity is okay with a basic consensus – too many loose ends are a problem, but a few are OK.


·         Pride must have the last word.

·         Dignity doesn't need the last word but still wants to be heard.


·         Pride insists that its perception is the only true perception, invalidating the feelings of others.

·         Dignity makes room for the perceptions of others while still holding firm to its own.


·         Pride will not bend.

·         Dignity bends, but doesn't break.


·         Pride won't admit when it's wrong, always shifting blame to the other person.

·         Dignity can admit wrongs and apologize for them but doesn't apologize when there's nothing to apologize for.


·         Pride meets pride with more pride.

·         Dignity wrestles pride to the ground – even when wronged – without compromising self-respect in the process.


Things don't always end well when conflict arises, but allowing dignity to morph into pride will guarantee that they won't – and it will be (at least in part) your fault.   When conflict arises, before responding, ask yourself some questions:


·         Is there anything I need to apologize for?

·         How can I express my concerns without inflicting needless pain?

·         Is my intent constructive or destructive?


It's the difference between beeping your horn and laying on it! A measured, appropriate use of power with constructive intent is no guarantee that things will end well – but at least when they don't, you won't be to blame!


For more on appropriate confrontation, see My Path from Doormat to Dignity:  Part V – The Truth in Action



Forgive and Remember


For more on appropriate forgiveness, see My Path from Doormat to Dignity:  Chapter 13 – Always Forgive


Does forgiveness mean forgetting?

Does forgiveness mean trusting?

Does forgiveness preclude consequences?


Forgiveness means different things to different people.  For some, forgiveness means to "forgive and forget." In other words, you haven't truly forgiven until you have erased the offense from your memory.  Even if this were possible, it is naïve and may even be dangerous!  You can forgive and at the same time, hold others accountable.  You can forgive and still protect yourself.  Consider the following:


·         Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others (Colossians 3:13, NLT).

·         A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions… (Proverbs 22:3, NLT).

·         If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them (Titus 3:10 NLT).

·         Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life (Proverbs 4:23, NLT).


It's true:  we should always forgive – mostly for our own sake and because we have been forgiven. Even so, it's important to define what forgiveness is and isn't before insisting that somebody does it!  Forgiveness should not be confused with reconciliation; in other words, forgiveness doesn't mean signing up to be someone's perpetual punching bag!


Under ideal circumstances (i.e. the offender is truly sorry and is unlikely to repeat the same offense) forgiveness can and should culminate in reconciliation – and it's great when it does.  But, unfortunately, this is not always the case.


Whether or not you should reconcile with someone who has offended you depends a lot on the circumstances. What are some things to consider?


·         How serious was the offense; did it appear to be deliberate?

·         Is it a pattern or an anomaly?

·         Was a sincere apology offered, or did they refuse to be held accountable?  Worse yet, did they unfairly blame you for what they did or invalidate your legitimate feelings?

·         Will reconciling too quickly invite more of the same?

·         Do you just need a little time and space for your heart to heal?


Consider the following scenarios:

·         A friend is a half an hour late meeting you for lunch. She is usually on time and apologizes profusely. Should you forgive and forget?


·         A close friend who you confided in betrayed your confidence. You asked her to keep certain information confidential, but she didn't. Unfortunately, this friend has a poor track record in this area. She profusely apologizes. Should you forgive and forget, or forgive and remember?


·         Your boss has a short fuse. He's blown up at you before, but this time he did it in front of the entire office. He offered no apology. Should you forgive and forget, or forgive and remember?


·         Your mother babysits often for your six-year-old daughter. You have explained to your mother how important it is for her to monitor what your daughter watches on TV. After discovering that your daughter was exposed to highly inappropriate programing, you confront your mother. She responds by diminishing your concerns: "You can't raise her in a bubble!"  Should you forgive and forget, or forgive and remember?


·         You caught your husband in another affair.  He very sorry. Just like the last time, he promises to change. Should you forgive and forget, or forgive and remember?


In all but the first scenario above, trust and full reconciliation is probably not warranted.  Forgiveness is not blind; it does not pretend that all is fine when it's not.  Forgiveness does not preclude the implementation of boundaries and consequences for bad behavior; in fact, it's easier to forgive when you feel safe. According to Lewis Smedes, author of Forgive and Forget (1984), forgiveness is making the most of what is left of a relationship within the parameters of protective boundaries. Forgiveness is not the same as trusting:  you can forgive someone who it would be stupid to trust – forgiveness is free, but reconciliation and trust come with strings attached (Smedes, 1984). 


Authentic forgiveness balances truth and grace.  Truth says I will hold you responsible for harming me, and depending on your response I may or may not be able to trust you again.  Grace says I will not hate you or harm you for wronging me.  Instead, I release you from the debt you owe and wish you well – even if we can't be friends.


For more on appropriate forgiveness, see My Path from Doormat to Dignity:  Chapter 13 – Always Forgive