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Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything

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When Cover Letters Aren’t Adequate

August 4th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 9 Comments

As those following the comments may know, I was still wondering whether I should forward the Abusing the Story of Job post to my family or not. And so I continue wondering. If I do send it, I would include a cover letter that goes something like this:

Dear Family,

With some hesitance, I attach a piece I wrote five weeks ago. I wrote it at a time when I was quite emotional, and did the writing in part for its therapeutic benefit. It sketches out my views with regards to our meeting that Sunday. Eventually I shared it with my pastor (Theo Geyser), who encouraged me to pass it on to you.

I share this now with you, not out of animosity, not out of wanting to start a debate or invoke a disagreement, but simply because I feel it necessary to be open about it. My beliefs encourage me to share my differing views, to stand up for what I believe.

We all have different perspectives. This really should not be a problem as long as we do not try to force everyone to believe exactly the same thing. I respect your beliefs, I respect your right to have a different take on things than I do, I just feel I owe it to you to give you the opportunity to respect my views as well, which requires that I actually share them with you in the first place.

With that in mind, you are welcome to read the attached text. If you choose to do so, please do not take anything in it personally. I wrote it in the middle of the night (all through the night, as we were waiting for my mother to go in for surgery for her cancer), in response to an emotionally charged event, and out of anguish with the potential unintended consequences and side-effects of certain beliefs.

The end of the text contains a particular “sting in the tail”, please don’t take it too seriously. It is there as a dramatic finale to leave the reader with a lasting thought, expressing how I felt during trying times. It is not, I repeat, not, addressed to you, I am not implying that you added stress. The sting merely expresses my defensive attitude towards my mother, passionately expressing my desire (but ultimate inability) to protect her from threats. It is like a swear word that sometimes slips out when you bang your head on a sharp cupboard corner… I trust you’ll understand.

I hope if there are any questions or comments about it, that we can sit down and talk them out. I realise how incredibly easy it is for misunderstandings to develop, and I would like to prevent that from happening. Please let me know.

Best regards,
Hugo

What do you think of a letter like that?

I have sought the advice of a couple of people, and I still don’t know what to do. Some of the feedback suggests the post is too strongly worded. If I want to share my views, maybe I should do so with a more carefully written piece. I come across too strongly…

Understood in the context in which I wrote the piece, people should understand why I write strongly, or the dramatic effect of a “sting-in-the-tail”. However, especially in cases where people are very defensive about their beliefs and their choices, they won’t be looking at things in that context, they will see if the shoe fits, and if not, they will make it fit. Something like that post could end up driving in a permanent wedge, causing a complete breakdown of interpersonal relationships… On reading a post like that, people may feel strongly criticised and very hurt.

Sometimes, even in simply having different beliefs, explicitly, they could draw up a number of conclusions that I did not mean. The path of reasoning could run like this:

Hugo has different beliefs. Explicitly. -> Clearly he disagrees with our beliefs. -> He must think we are wrong. -> He criticises our beliefs, he thinks we are believing incorrect things. -> He must think we lack good judgement on these things.

Etcetera. It can go even further. And it would be wrong. It is particularly irritating when the above happens due to projection. In projection cases, the person thinking along those lines usually criticises other people’s lack of judgement for having “incorrect beliefs”. They then assume that when someone disagrees with them, that someone is doing the same. Beams and splinters. I’m sure Matthew 7:1-5 refers, amongst other things, to the projection phenomenon.

But I digress.

Why is the above train of thought incorrect? Well, we do not all believe the same thing, and we never will. No one ever knows everything. It is thus of the utmost importance that we learn to respect and understand differences of opinion and beliefs, and how to get along peacefully. (Also, only once we get to that point, can we start learning from each other in our diversity.) I’m well aware of this (that we don’t all believe the same thing and never will), and being aware of it breaks the above train of thought.

Getting back to the motivation of not sending it: maybe it is more worthwhile to protect and maintain good interpersonal relationships, and share and talk about our differences of opinion in a less emotionally charged way? I’m sure there will be many more opportunities…

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9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Linda // Aug 5, 2008 at 2:59 am

    It’s a very well-written letter that I don’t think would be misunderstood.

    But does it have to be all or nothing? Can you just give them a watered down version?

    Do they really have no idea whatsoever that you have these thoughts?

    If it were me, I would feel less than genuine every time I was with them, knowing that I am not representing myself truthfully.

    How about giving them a copy of the book by Marcus Borg and tell them that you found the book to be very intriguing and that it contains a refreshing view of the story of Job? Would that be a dialogue opener?

    Or… just close your eyes and send them the letter… I know. I’m not much help. :-(

  • 2 Hugo // Aug 5, 2008 at 10:19 am

    I thought of lending them the book. They won’t like the book much either. ;) But then it wouldn’t be me. I could tell them to read just those 10 pages. Maybe I can photostat those pages: since I’m leaving, I can just give them those ten, and take my book with me. Possibilities…

    With regards to all-or-nothing, I don’t like “tuning” an old post, since where does one stop? There is the possibility of extracting just the explanation of Job and the thinking about Angus’ interpretation. That is something I think I’ll still do, and make a post about it, as something to refer to when talking about Job.

    I might go with the photostat thing. Sounds like a good idea.

    With regards to the Job post, the sting in the tail is the thing I’m now getting the most criticism for. The word “curse” is extremely powerful for such people. And yet I put it in, consciously. Makes for head-scratching when you want to send it to a specific person.

    I think the photostats are a good idea. A good beginning.

  • 3 skoembs // Aug 5, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Look at it this way… you’ll be 10000 k’s away by the time they’ve read through all that so if they’re angry it’s not going to affect you too much anyway.

    But seriously, I think you’re over-analysing… just send it and deal with whatever comes of it later. Sometimes I think you’re so afraid of stepping on toes that your excuses might have the opposite effect… something in the line of ‘methinks the lady protests too much.’

  • 4 Hugo // Aug 5, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    Or maybe I, and the people I asked for advice, know my family better than you do… ;) But I hear you. Your suggested course of action is very tempting. What do you think of the cover letter above? I could adjust the cover letter to more explicitly apologise for the sting-in-the-tail, explaining that I don’t mean it the way it sounds?

    Poetic words… *sigh*. And a highly sensitive family. (That goes for my mother as well. She’s the one that suggested we’re all a little over-sensitive. I’m sure that also extends to us as well, my sister and I, to some degree. I’m getting much better though, don’t even want to think about a prime example from around this time last year…)

  • 5 skoembs // Aug 5, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Of course, of course… if the ‘sting’ bothers you so much, why not just leave it out (just leave a note where you edited if you want and the reason why). The poetic value might be lost, but if I read through the lines it’s likely to be lost on them anyway.

  • 6 Hugo // Aug 5, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    Of much interest to me now is the conversation this started with my advising aunt. It deals largely with the emerging church, with me on the “defence” and she taking more of a “prosecution” role, having read some conservative critics’ opinions. (The metaphor is too strong, but anyway.)

    The conservatives are “smearing” the emerging church movement with their demonised versions of the words “socialist, humanist, liberal”, and… “new age”. Yup, the emerging church is a “new age movement”, apparently.

    I’ll share some of the insights of that conversation later, if there is some interest. Heh, of course there is, I’m interested. :-P

  • 7 skoembs // Aug 6, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Joy! had an article on the emerging church last month. I just scanned through the article in the shop. It was very much in the vein of ‘so what does the emerging church actually believe in’, quoting McClaren et al saying that the resurrection doesn’t have to be factually true etc. It also commented on how Rob Bell appeals to the younger generation by being so ‘hip’ and liberal. It had both views and left the verdict to the reader, but it was obviously written in a way to make the emerging church look suspicious / like a fad.

  • 8 Hugo // Aug 6, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    I have a “Joy!” here with an front-cover-mentioned article on “Universities are brainwashing our students, by teaching them science…” Viva Joy.

    Methinks early Christianity looked like a fad to the Romans, and the Jews as well maybe. In the end it caused something of a revolutionary shift in religion. I’d say the optimistic emerging church people are hoping something similar will happen.

    While Rob Bell and McLaren are big guys in the movement, the movement is broad and diverse enough to handle a couple of congregations dying out like “liberal Christianity” a century ago. (A few people suggest it is a recycling of liberal Christianity. There are similarities, but culture and its philosophy have moved on, pressures from all sides are encouraging this, and culture is generally post-modernistic.)

    I believe this “fad” is here to stay, and presents another key development in the evolution of our religion, culture, morality and our relationship to a wonderful piece of our cultural heritage (The Holy Bible). If people can appreciate it *for what it is*, it can become quite beautiful. Otherwise it can be quite ugly, thinking of crusades and reading, um, Kings or Judges?… for example. ;)

    In the end though, only time will tell. Such is the selection process. May the “best”* mutations also prove to be the fittest.

    *best: value judgement.

  • 9 Ben-Jammin' // Aug 6, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    I’ll share some of the insights of that conversation later, if there is some interest.

    I’m interested. My ability to bite my tongue has been getting better (could it get worse?), but I still read everything.

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