Albert Loan has written a fantastic Facebook post on Grace, which he gave me permission to post here. I want to share it because it very much goes along with the purpose of this blog.
As time goes on, I increasingly believe that one’s capacity for grace is a high measure of intelligence. It is surprising, however, how little this quality is talked about in educational literature or even in the literature on dialogue, outside of a religious context. For me gracious communication requires the ability to ignore minor irritations, to not be sidetracked by syntactical errors in the search for the semantic meaning, and a conscious effort to maintain the assumption of good will on the part of the other person. Computers cannot do that. They are binary, “yes” or “no” machines, unforgiving, unable to overlook small errors, no tolerance for imprecision, and unable to seek out the truth amidst the error and connect to it. In other words, they are not intelligent. How often are conversations brought to an abrupt stop because someone picks up on a rather irrelevant mistake in logic, insignificant error in fact, or a misuse of grammar. A gracious communicator knows when such a breach is inconsequential to the dialogue’s direction and intent. A brief search for “charitable communication” also turns up nothing. Howard Gardner’s “empathetic” or “existential intelligence” addresses this to some extent, and Marshall Rosenberg shows us technically how to be non-violent in our speech, but grace is something more and something lacking from so much of our personal and public discourse. Some people talk of speaking “gracefully,” but this can almost be the opposite of what I am talking about. Being “graceful” is usually associated with “tact,” which has the implication that there is something wrong about which one should not speak directly. It can imply that the other person lacks the emotional maturity to hear what we would like to say. It implies a lack of transparency, a need to hide one’s true assessment, or the skillful use of ruse. That is not to say that graceful communication or tact is not necessary at times, but an attitude of gracious communication is different; it comes from an attitude of genuine hospitality, a generosity of spirit that instinctively invites someone in, out of the rain, despite their wet clothes.
We all need this kind of grace in our lives, in the way we live our lives, in the way we treat others, and the way we communicate with each other. We are all guilty of failing to exhibit such grace–often quite guilty–but it’s something we should all strive to achieve. It’s a generosity of spirit, a willingness to overlook the small things in order to concentrate on the larger purpose. And no, this is not at all in conflict with what I posted earlier by McElroy on carelessness and the small things. But there is a time and place for everything.
As Frederick Turner points out in Shakespeare’s 21st Century Economics, grace and mercy are related–both are necessary for justice to exist. To be just with others, you need to exhibit grace and mercy towards them. We are seeing less and less grace and mercy in the world today, all under the guise of increasing justice. But justice without mercy and grace is vicious. And that, too, we are increasingly seeing today. We need a return to grace.
Albert Loan points out that his “own understanding of grace came first from Mary Baker Eddy, then Leonard Read of FEE, then Don Lavoie at GMU, then Maria Montessori, and over the last decade Martin Buber (I and Thou) and Ronald C. Arnett (Communication and Community).” He goes on to say that, “Between Lavoie and Montessori I read a book called “The Habit of Thought,” by Michael Strong. This was key to putting into practice what I had learned previously and it also opened a world of scholarship where I found Buber, Arnett, and a host of other wonderful scholars who value gracious dialogue. As an educator, it changed my life. Having said all this, I’m aware that I still have a lot to learn and that my own communication skills fall far short of those whose example I admire.” And “Also, David Bohm! I knew I was missing someone significant. His “On Dialogue” is a treatise on gracious communication. The ability to “suspend” your judgement while you remain open to the truth being expressed to you is key to achieving a gracious attitude.“