“But in correction, above all avoid anger and bitterness of spirit. Otherwise you may seem to wish not to amend a friend so much as to vent your own spleen. Indeed, I have observed that in reproving friends some people hide their growing bitterness and overflowing rage under the cloak of zeal or frankness. As a result… such correction has done more harm than good.”
Aelred of Rievaulx, On Spiritual Friendship
Sometimes it seems that great writers on the moral life have been sitting in my living room. Watching how I act toward my wife.
It’s the line “such correction has done more harm than good” that really gets me. How many times have I thought to myself, “Why is it that people around me find it hard to appreciate my insights into their problems? Even my wife!” How many discussions have turned into arguments, only to end as fights.
Perhaps sometimes I actually have an insight into something that is ‘wrong’ in my wife, and this is part of why I am surprised when sharing it doesn’t go well. But Aelred points to the key: my correction was an expression of my anger. And my anger did not convey “I love you, and I’m looking out for you.” Rather, it conveyed: “I love me, and I’m looking out for me.”
When selfishness moves me to make what can only be taken as an attack, then battle has been joined. And the casualties are counted in the erosion of trust, and the memory of words that can’t be taken back.
I have failed to act from my love for you. I have been governed by fear and hurt, and my selfishness has overflowed under the cloak of frankness. And worse, I’ll probably do it again.
So I apologize, and I beg your forgiveness. And I resolve that all my words will truly speak to you, that I love you.
St. Aelred (1109-1167) was the abbot of the English Cistercian monastery in Rievaulx. He is most known for his treatise On Spiritual Friendship.
Image: Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910), Morning Glories