Saturday, March 27, 2010

Banish Unilateral Behavior

Unilateralism Is Bad for Relationships

Relationships are important. They breathe meaning into our lives. There are good relationships and not so good ones. While we try to have good relationships, chances are, it is not possible to have all of them to be good at the same time. This is because every one of us are different. We behave differently at different phases of life. It is thus important to be able to cultivate an attitude of humility and to give others the benefit of the doubt whenever necessary.

What is unilateralism? What is unilateral behavior? Basically, it is a single party making a decision that is closed ended toward self. It is a decision made without adequate or any  consultation with relevant parties. It is an action that precludes and excludes  the inputs of others. It is often used by people in positions of power, to impose their decisions on those of a lesser rung of the hierarchy.

Jesus a victim of unilateral behavior
I wonder what Jesus has to say about our modern relationships with one another. I think if he is attending the same church as we are right now, chances are, members of the church will eventually be disappointed with Jesus at some point. During his short sojourn on earth, many people hold Jesus in high expectations. Many judged him even before he is given a fair trial. Some expect him to perform miracles according to their own whims and fancies. Others expect him to grant special favours when the kingdom comes. Most of the time, the way the people behave is a sham. They treated Jesus as guilty until proven guilty. They adopted unilateral behavior even before Jesus was given a chance to defend himself. In Luke 22:66, the chief priests, the Jewish religious teachers have already judged Jesus as guilty even before the actual trial. Jesus has no chance to escape their unjust accusations. Look at Jesus reply to their question about whether Jesus is the Christ.

"Jesus answered, 'If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.' " (Luke 22:67b-69)

Did the Jews believe Jesus? Certainly not. Look at how condescending their next question is:

"They all asked, 'Are you then the Son of God?'" (Luke 22:70)

When Jesus replied in the affirmative, the way the people responded confirmed their unilateral behavior. Look at the reply:

"Then they said, 'Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.'" (Luke 22:71)

The Jewish leaders impose their judgments on Jesus even before the Son of Man can defend himself. First they convinced themselves that Jesus is a fraud. Second, they get Jesus arrested, saying that he is a threat to the religious and political ranks. Third, in order to cement their own beliefs, they ask questions in the manner so that they can prove their own views as correct in the first place. In other words, the Jewish leaders have embarked upon a path toward unilateral condemnation of Jesus. Finally, they get the public to witness how right they are, and how wrong Jesus is. Unilateral behavior allows pride to feed upon pride. When this happens, injustice reigns.

Jesus sought the Best Defense: God Himself
Instead of defending his own name and honour, Jesus throws himself under the mighty protection of God the Father. He is wise enough to know that people have already judged him in their stubborn hearts. In times like these, there is no point in going against the leaders. There is no point trying to reason with them as they have already determined Jesus is guilty.

In any relationship, the moment any one party has unilaterally decided on a decision that affects both parties, this person or persons have made a judgment without giving room for the other to respond. Unilateral decisions have aroused the ire of many. A famous political decision is the decision by the United States to invade Iraq even without official approval of the United Nations. Based on their interpretation of 'overwhelming evidence' that Iraq possesses Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Americans stormed Iraq in the name of their anti-terrorism agenda. They flatly refuse to entertain appeals from other members of the security council like France, Russia, China and others. Only the UK voted with them.

Unilateralism in relationships can be downright unhelpful for cultivating healthy conversations. Unilateral decisions present a decision already made, instead of posing a scenario for discussion. Unilateral decisions give everyone no choice but one. Unilateral decisions present discussions in the form of a monologue, not a dialogue. Unilateral decisions are closed to others, open only to self. Unilateral decisions is a shameful abuse of power. It curtails the development of a relationship. In unilateralism, pride triumphs over humility. The powerful rules over the powerless. The strong bullies the weak. Unilateral behavior is an abuse of power, a misuse of privilege. Above all, it degrades and humiliates the brother or sister who are weaker. Unilateral behavior leaves not much room for dissenting views. It adopts a straightforward pronouncement of 'if-you-are-not-with-us, you-are-against-us.'

A Call for Dialogue and Open Discussion
A mature relationship is one that entails a healthy dialogue and open discussion. It is patient. It is kind. It is not puffed up with self-induced sense of importance, but deflates one's ego, so as to treat others more important than self. It is gentle on people who holds a different position. It is open to consider other views. It is careful not to allow one's beliefs and convictions to overwhelm or to downplay other people's viewpoints.

In Churches, it is important that we nip any unilateral streak happening in any relationship. The leadership must lead the way. In fact, leaders of the Church are called to be servants. They are expected to adopt a servant's heart. In a bilateral relationship, an open discussion will need more time for issues to be resolved. Disputes and disagreements need to be adressed with cool heads and warm hearts. One needs to objective and to be sensitive to one another.

Pray that the churches we are in will firstly recognize and stop unilateral behavior. Adopt servant hearts. Express love to one another by subjecting our own opinions as less important than others. It is important to learn from the Prayer of St Francis, to learn to seek to understand rather than to be understood. So, let us say goodbye to unilateral, one-sided bigot behavior in our relationships. Let us instead welcome bilateral, even multilateral communications, many-sided views and a big open heart to welcome one another as Christ welcomed us.

A healthy Church is one who is comfortable with different viewpoints, able to live with diversity. Otherwise, with everyone holding only one strict interpretation on most or all matters, the church will look more like a cult. In a relationship, if everyone is supposed to listen to the propaganda and decisions laid out by one person, it is no longer a relationship. It is no longer a relationship. It becomes politics.



Rosie Perera said...

There are times when unilateralism is the right thing, though. When there is a disagreement or impasse in a relationship, initiating a unilateral act of grace or forgiveness or repentance can cause the melting of ice between the two parties. Similarly, if there is an unhealthy pattern, where one party simply will not or can not budge, the other party initiating an unexpected unilateral change in approach can bring a breakthrough. This is all well-documented in Family Systems Theory, which is accepted by many Christian counsellors.

Nevertheless, I have no argument with your main point. There is certainly no place for selfish unilateral behavior, which is the type you were referring to. But your title "banish unilateral behavior" (the implication being "banish all unilateral behavior") paints too broad a stroke, I think. There are nuances.

YAPdates said...

Your comments are really helpful. Thanks. I had thought that by adding the word 'behavior' I can capture the bigoted part of unilateralism. You are right. It could also mean 'all' behaviors. Maybe the title should be something like "Banish Unilateral Behavior Tendencies."

I share your 'unilateral act of grace' with a little caution. Sometimes, an act of good deed needs approval as well. We cannot presume that people who needs help WANTS help. This is something which I remember about Jesus talking to the blind man. He asks: "Do you want to get well?" (John 5:6b)

I was rather amused initially by the request. Of course, if I am blind, I want to see. If I am lame, I want to walk. Yet, Jesus chooses to remain humble and not assume anything. Our Lord's ways are truly mysterious.



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