Sunday, October 20, 2013

"It's Not About the Nail"

Some of you probably have seen a certain YouTube video making the rounds. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to click on this link and watch the 1 min. 42 sec. video before reading the rest of this posting.
Written and produced by Jason Headley, the above-mentioned video is titled “It’s Not About the Nail.” It was sent to me by a family member who referred to it (on the email subject line) as “Fun (and short) video clip -- worth watching.”
Online comments include such words as “hilarious,” “LOL,” and “cracking up” – along with many more serious and some sarcastic comments.
In my reply to those on the family distro, I wrote, “Well, I thought this video was interesting, but I didn't think it was funny.” And, “It seems to me that sometimes just listening/understanding isn't enough and not particularly helpful.”
The response from the one who initiated the conversation: “Sometimes no matter how right you may be, if you cannot connect empathically with the other person, it is all for naught and they will not hear your truth.” I agree. But sometimes people will not listen to reason even if you do connect empathically.
That’s the reason I didn’t think the video was funny. The guy seems to have listened quite well. But that didn’t seem to help overcome the pain the woman in the video was experiencing. As my oldest granddaughter wrote, “Maybe it’s just that sometimes people just have to face facts in their own time.” Probably so. But sometimes we may need to confront others.
This discussion brought to mind the fine book “Caring Enough to Confront” (1973; 3rd ed., 2009) by Mennonite theologian David Augsburger (b. 1938). In the Preface, Augsburger writes, “If I love you, I must tell you the truth” (p. iii).
Of course, the truth must be expressed carefully and with compassion. That is why Augsburger’s first chapter is called “Care-fronting: A Creative Way Through Conflict.” Putting care and confrontation together provides “the unique combination of truth and love that is necessary for building human relationships” (p. 9)
Empathic listening is important in showing others that we care about them, and usually any communication is enhanced by really paying attention to the other’s pain and fears. Once we help others know that we really care about them, then perhaps we can help them solve the problems they are facing or the fears they are wrestling with.
The old saying is doubtlessly true in many cases: “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”
Empathetic listening is important in families and among close friends. And certainly it needs to be practiced wherever, and especially whenever, there are conflicts—at home, among friends, at work and elsewhere.
Is that how I should respond to those who strongly disagree with my opinions expressed in this blog (or on Facebook)? Perhaps to a certain degree. But I don’t make these postings as a pastor, counselor, or mediator. I am trying to encourage serious thinking, and thoughtful dialogue.
When there are disagreements with what I write, I welcome people expressing their opposing viewpoints. But I don’t think my primary response should be, “Yes, I understand how you feel.”
There is a time and place to deal with feelings, of course. But this blog is designed primarily for dialogue, which occurs best when opposing viewpoints are expressed and discussed. Often, indeed, it is the nail needs to be talked about.


  1. My guess is that most associate with the man presented here, and view the others as the one having the nail. Sometimes that is the reality; sometimes it is a variance in paradigms; sometimes there are actually two real truths which cannot be explained in terms of the other (much like quantum and relative physics). Dialogue works if each party is willing to look at the situation form the vantage of the other - and possibly acknowledge that existence of another truth in addition to ones own verifiable truth. But there is also the possibility that neither has the real truth, only a partial truth. President Johnson was exceptionally good at working the latter - by giving Republicans credit, he gave us both Medicare and Vietnam.

    1. I started to add at the end of the original posting: "Sometimes the nail might be in your head and sometimes it might be in mine; regardless, it would still be about the nail."

      There is no real dialogue unless there is real listening and serious consideration of the viewpoint that the other person is expressing.

      And since I am an advocate of both/and thinking regarding most matters, I agree that in many cases where there are opposite views expressed there is a strong possibility that neither are completely correct.

  2. There is much wisdom in the statement, "Until you've learned to listen, don't be quick to give advice." That, however, does not preclude the need at some point to give advice. Perhaps it is in the process of asking a pointed question that generates a line of thought not considered before (which is why I appreciate your articles, Bro. Leroy). Perhaps it is in bringing up the idea of satisfaction with the status quo versus a willingness to try something different to bring about a positive change (which is the situation I see in the person of the young woman). In any case if a need is recognized and we do nothing but listen, then how have we helped the other individual? In speaking the truth in love, we may not be able to say, "You have to..." It may be that all we can or should do is ask "How can I help?" Otherwise I may just call an ambulance and ask for forgiveness later!

    1. Tom, this sounds like an efficient and no-nonsense strategy. I hope I can remember it when a situation like this presents itself!

    2. Tom, thanks for your helpful comments -- and I liked your closing exclamatory statement.

      Speaking the truth in love often entails, I believe, "care-frontation," which may well mean saying something the other person does not want to hear and initially rejects.

      But in many situations, what is of greatest importance is not a person's initial response but rather their second (or third) response; that is, what they do after they have had time to think about what has been said to them.

  3. OK, I am pretty sure I have this conversation with my wife at least once a week. I have a strong tendency to jump to the problem solving too soon. Not only does the listening and understanding need to come first, that very process may actually help the problem solving phase when and if it comes. I say "if" because sometimes it is not a problem she wants me to solve. She just wants a sounding board before she works on the problem herself.

    I think the video is a most elegant dramatization of a subtle miscommunication that happens frequently. We as humans, especially but not solely male humans, tend to substitute intellectuation for compassion. And I am so happy I found an excuse to use the new word I learned this week! Life is just better if we do not let our thinking get too far ahead of our feeling, or take ourselves too seriously. On the other hand, Milton Horne might not have written such a compelling book if Job's friends had followed that advice. It is called "Whirlwind" and I think Job's friends might just be the reason he thought "intellectuation" was just the word to communicate with the lay reader. And he would probably prefer if I had more empathy and less intellectuation about the nail in his vocabulary! (Seriously, it is a marvelous book for those interested in Job or counseling.)

    1. Craig, are you sure that the word wasn't "intellection"? (That was the closest I could find in "Whirlwind." I did not know "intellection" either, but Merriam-Webster online dictionary says it means "exercise of the intellect."

      And I guess that is one point I was making in my blog posting, in discussing various religious/social/political views I am more interested in intellection than emotion -- not that the two always have to be separated.

    2. Guilty as charged! I even looked up the word, too, but when I got to typing, I ended up closer to Colbert's "truthy" than to the truth. So now I guess Milton and his writing partner Wes Eades can have fun suggesting what my new word should mean!

      For anyone wanting to see intellection in actual usage, check page xiii of the introduction to the book. It might be in a section written by Wes, based on the subject, so I may get it from both of them!

  4. Many thanks, Craig, for the kind reference to the book. Job's friends were right when they sat silently with Job, as Job sat with his pain and bewilderment. But when does the right moment to speak ever arrive? The kind of listening the young woman in the video needed from her partner was compassionate listening: the kind where the partner could share the woman's pain. Only from that stance, it seems, could the young man's wisdom (advice) be heard. And until such compassion--such "suffering with"-- was present, words were wasted. So what does such compassionate listening actually look like? It's more than "care" to me, as care can exist at quite a distance. Only when her pain becomes his pain and she can join him in solving his pain can they together solve her pain.

    1. Milton, thanks for posting your comments.

      As I remember the story, Job's friends not only sat with him, they also tried to solve his problem in ways that were not constructive: they tried to tell him he should just "fess up." And many of us have been unhelpful by giving advice, trying to fix someone's problem, without fully understanding what the problem really is.

      But to go back to the video, what more could the man have done? It seemed to me he listened well and tried to be supportive. Surely he would not be required to put a nail in his head in order to feel her pain fully.

  5. Leroy, I like the concept of care-fronting! Notice that the woman raises her voice whenever the man tries to suggest anything. I really don't believe that one should raise their voice back and start an upward spiral of volume and intensity, but it is a natural response, and the man does not rise to the occasion. As a thought experiment, change the scenario to a doctor and a patient: the patient says he is out of breath; the doctor says stop smoking. The patient says, it's not about the cigarettes. The doctor says . . .

    I think if I were the doctor, I would say, OK, your appointment is over. Come back when you are serious about solving your problem. Is that too uncaring? Is it too confrontational?


    1. Phil, sorry to be so slow to respond to your thought comments. Regarding the man in the video, I don't see what more he could have done in that situation.

      I thought the scenario you suggested was instructive, and I don't think what you had the doctor say was too uncaring or too confrontational. How else could he help the patient?

  6. If I remember correctly, the gender difference displayed in this video was the main point of Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus by John Gray.