Hard Conversations… Hello weekend readers. I am musing on conversations. Of course, as a campground host and a chaplain, conversations take place all the time. And then there are those conversations with family and friends that often are not always pleasant. How often do you shrink away from a conversation you know is coming, but you just would prefer to put it on the ‘back-burner’?

There is a funny conversation from President James Madison that I had just read about in my weekly Smithsonian emails. I thought it was great so I’m going to share it with you. There is a great moment of détente in this President’s story that we can learn from. Here goes:

President James Madison suffered from many ailments in his old age that required him to take a variety of medicines. A longtime friend sent him a box of vegetable pills, one of his own home remedies, and wanted to know if Madison saw any improvement by taking them. It wasn’t long before the man received a carefully-worded reply back from Madison. It said,

“My dear friend, I thank you very much for the box of pills. I have taken them all; and while I cannot say I am better since taking them, it is quite possible that I might have been worse if I had not taken them.”

I had to chuckle on the careful wording of Madison’s letter to his friend. Talk about “dancing around the fire” but he did it well. He could have said it was worthless, but he was enough of a gentleman to not want to hurt his friend who was concerned about his ailment!

The wisdom of Solomon’s Proverbs are a great place to teach us détente. Using the NLT translation, we read: Proverbs 15: “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”  

And in Proverbs 16:24 we again read: Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” 

Since James Madison was a man of faith, you can see how he may have used these Proverbs in writing to his friend. He was truthful and kind all at the same time!

Détente comes from a French word for relaxation. It is the relaxation of strained relations, especially political ones, through verbal communication. The diplomacy term originates from around 1912, when France and Germany tried unsuccessfully to reduce tensions. What is détente in our own words? Well, yes it is a relaxing of tension: diplomacy is working and the countries are on the path of peace rather than the road to war. So for us, if we always argue with siblings or others, détente is what you need so you can start getting along better! You could humorously say “we’ve reached a détente!”

One of the biggest challenges we can face when we’re in a position where we have to have a hard conversation is doing what James Madison did: do it in such a way that preserves another person’s dignity. Whether you’re declining an offer from a salesman or breaking some bad news to a good friend, how you say it will speak louder than you realize. Be the “gentle answer that reflects anger”—right?

There is a caveat about this conversation however, and that is not shying away from what is right. Our commitment to the truth must be first always. If not, you get a back-and-forth conversation that usually winds up going nowhere, and worse, may push you apart from the person you care about.

Go back again to the meaning of détente—relaxation, a working together to reduce tensions. That tells us that we must maintain our commitment to the truth, but always bathe the truth in love and grace, and let others know we sincerely care. In the end, what we really need to do is love others well by speaking what’s right in the right way! Nuff said, AMEN.