Tuesday, April 8, 2008

When is Sarcasm Destructive?

"As long as we get the check, that's all that matters!" This is apparently what an administrator at a UU congregation said upon learning that an elderly member had fallen while trying to put a check into a church mailbox. I heard this story at the Large Congregation Conference. An usher witnessed an elderly member fall down in the lobby when she (the elderly woman) was about to put a check into a donation box. The usher called 911. It turned out the 85-year-old woman had fainted and was okay, but paramedics came to make sure of this.

Later, when the usher described the situation to the administrator, the administrator made the sarcastic, caustic remark shown above. What a thing to say! I would be both hurt and angry if someone made such a mean remark about a member of my congregation. I want members to be treated with respect. The comment was probably meant to be a joke, but how cruel.... It sounds to me like something one staff member might say to another over a third beer, but in any other context is inappropriate (IMHO).

As I mentioned in a previous post, our keynote speaker at the Large Congregation Conference was Susan Beaumont of the Alban Institute. Beaumont shared an outline of what to do in cases like this, when someone seems to exhibit inappropriate influence. Susan's outline involves a series of steps, beginning with searching your own heart and ending with using "I" statements with a technique sort of like: when you W, because I thought X, I felt Y. I would rather Z.

After that, you just take up your relationship with the other person again. If the uncomfortable stuff happens again, go back to Step One. According to Susan Beaumont, if you've gone through all these loving steps four times or more, only to have the nasty behavior continue, then it is finally time for Step Four.

I cannot write anything more specific about Beaumont's outstanding presentation (because "the materials are not intended for general circulation"), but I hope that poor usher hears about it.

Here's to being seen as more than walking checkbooks at our congregations!


Robin Edgar said...

Believe me, far worse things have been said about innocent U*U congregants by verbally and psychologically abusive U*U ministers and U*U lay leaders, such as Board Presidents for example, and U*Us have done absolutely nothing to hold them accountable for their abusive behavior.

Elizabeth J. Barrett said...

I certainly hope the innocent person in this case -- the elderly member -- did not hear what was said about her.