I have been pondering ‘authority’ in relationships and the need to set healthy boundaries. Specifically when the person with whom we need to establish those boundaries is someone who has authority over us, or is in a co-leadership position with us. It is a sensitive thing at the best of times, and more so when someone in authority over us violates us and boundaries need defining.
We all have the ‘right’ to be respected. It is not just a human rights issue—it is a right that God has given us. He made us in His image, to reflect His heart and His likeness. Each of us, in our individuality, is made to uniquely represent Him, here on earth. This is true whether we are Christians or not. The effectiveness and impact of that, whether we allow that God-likeness to flow through us or not, is to an extent dependent on our faith in Him, but regardless of our beliefs, God’s likeness is in us.
When we function under leadership and authority, whether that person is a boss, a father or mother, a husband or any other leader, we should expect to be treated with dignity and respect. When that doesn’t happen, we have a choice; we choose silence and allow victimization—usually ending up feeling sorry for ourselves, or we confront (hopefully gently so that we are heard), or sometimes we may need to first reach out for help. We may not initially have the strength to confront, or, alternatively, we may come off too strong because of personal defences.
Years ago, as a young woman working as a secretary, someone in leadership asked me to do something illegal—I was to ‘fudge the books’ to make things look differently than they really are. I was the person that signed off on documents for the government reports and to do so would have not only risked the company being slapped with a huge fine, but I would have been responsible. In submitting documentation I always signed the typical ‘I confirm that the information contained in the report is true…’ and to sign that, knowing I was intentionally doctoring reports, was not something I could do.
However, because it was a leader who asked me to do this, I was in a conundrum. Should I defy my leader and not say anything? Should I do what I was asked? Should I confront?
Me, being me, I opted for confrontation. It’s not that I like confrontation, but silence, either way, would have made me feel victimized and I don’t tend towards accepting that role.
I walked into my boss’s office, defences high, and asked him to explain exactly what it is he wants me to do. Again, he outlined the exact steps I was to take in reporting.
“But that’s illegal,” I said.
He mumbled something that didn’t support me doing the right thing and, without a further thought, I leaned over his desk, handed him the reports and told him, quite boldly, “It’s illegal, and if you want it done that way, you will have to go do it yourself!”
Stunned, he looked at me without a word. After the pause, he told me to go do the right thing.
Back at my desk, my heart was still beating like a drum in my chest. Had I really just done that? My head was spinning. I was proud of myself for taking a stand but felt bad… almost sick, over how I had done it. And yet, it had been the truth.
My boss’s son, having heard the exchange, walked over to my desk. A quiet gentleman, only a few years older than me, he spoke with great wisdom a lesson I have taken with me for life, “Trudy, what you have to say is often bang on. If you would learn to say it differently, it would be easier to receive and would have more impact.”
I don’t remember if those were his exact words, but they were pretty close. That advice has changed the way I address leadership. The Bible says in 1 Timothy 5:1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren..”
In my pursuit of healthy boundaries I made some pretty big mistakes. And that’s okay. I was learning a new and better way. It is better to make mistakes on the journey, than to choose apathetic disinterest in growth. It is in making mistakes that we learn to do it right.
The next time my boss asked me to do something sketchy, I calmly rose from my chair at my desk, looked him in the eye, ushered him to sit down and calmly said, “If you want that done, you will need to do it yourself. I find it offensive.”
Again my boss looked surprised, but this time was different. With a new respect he said not to worry about doing it. He never again put me in that kind of a position.
When it comes to family, especially a father, mother or spouse, the familiarity can cause us instinctively to do one of two things. It can make us defensive, angry and disrespectful, or cause us to completely withdraw in fear or anxiety. Like their wives, this can be a very real part of a husband’s journey. If we overcome these tendencies and learn to calmly speak the truth—that we have value and are not willing to be a doormat—we will have much more impact.
Recently, watching a video series on working through various issues, the one example jumped out at me, illustrating how to do this well. The speaker guided her audience on a gentle approach to establishing a strong boundary. In her example she was addressing a father, and the words were something to this effect: “Dad, I have worth. God sees value in me. I am His daughter and He treats me with respect. You need to treat me with respect and talk to me with respect. Until you can do that, I am not willing to subject myself to abuse.”
Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” More is said in the tone of voice than in the words we speak. The truth, when spoken with calmness, has authority. The same truth, when spoken in loud or angry tone, loses impact.
The key to ending the doormat lifestyle is to first see that we have worth and value, and then to live a life that commands respect, in word and in deed.
© Trudy Metzger 2012
Love this post, Trudy: it treads the tightrope between being true to yourself while maintaining courtesy to others.
Thank you for reading this post, Kate, and for sharing your encouraging thoughts. Your tightrope analogy is a good one–it does require a balancing act.