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Table of Contents

The Academic Bill of Rights: Yea or Nay?

The Academic Bill of Rights - What is It?

It's My Right!...

Thelmo Resolution in Support of Civility, Free Speech and Dialogue

Is Tolerance Enough

If We Agree in Love

The Responsible Use of Freedom

Sticks and Stones...

What's Out There: Researching Academic Freedom

Alumni Accomplishments

The Kenya Connection

Laurentian Reviews

Table of Contents

Sticks and Stones…
By Laura J. Rediehs

Professor Redieh’s Three-Step Program for Responding to Verbal Attack

When you find yourself hurt and upset by what someone has said, ask if there is something you yourself can do that will help you to recover. Taking the following three steps can be enormously helpful, not only for yourself, but also for everyone involved.

Step 1:  Look again at the painful situation and try to find one place where the other person may have made a good point, or at least uttered an honest and understandable expression of his or her own pain.

Step 2:  Look again at the words or event and, this time, look for one place where what the person said or did hurt or offended you in a way that you feel is unjustified.  Try to clarify exactly what was misunderstood or misperceived regarding your own actions, words or intentions.  Just one example -- even if 99% of that episode was unjustified, pick the most important instance. 

Step 3:  If this wasn't really directly about you, forgive the person--you have clarified your own continued worthiness, so you may be ready now to move on. If this was about you, or for other reasons you feel it would be good to respond, plan your response carefully.  Should you write an e-mail, and if so, should it be public or private, and why?  Should you meet with the person one-on-one?  Should you invite a neutral party? Whether you respond in writing or in person, the nature of your response is clear--simply make the two points from steps 1 and 2, in order.

Since a meeting is usually the more challenging approach, let’s consider that scenario in some detail.  First, from step 1, affirm the good point that the person made, or acknowledge sympathy with the person’s pain.  It is important to realize that this step is about the other person, not about you.  This step has enormous power. It will make the other person feel much better and will take the edge off of his or her anger and begin to build trust.  You will no longer seen as the enemy.  People do want to be heard and understood -- especially those people who express themselves badly and hurtfully! 

Give the person a chance to respond, stay with him or her, listen sympathetically, and then, when the time is right, move on to your next point--what you learned from step 2.  Here, you say something like, “I felt hurt when you said..., because....” Use this as an opportunity to clarify your own good intentions.  Now this is about you.  Simply express your own pain (briefly), but mostly express what you were trying to do.  The point here is to correct the misperception of you on this one point, to offer reassurance that you are a good person trying to do the right thing.

Again, give the person time to respond.  If you've conducted the first part of the conversation well, the response may simply be an apology.  If instead it’s defensive, try to quell this by saying things like, “I’m just trying to help you understand where I’m coming from,” to shift the attention gently back onto you.

That's it.  Let go of all the rest.  End the conversation with grace and gratitude.  If follow-up is needed on other points of your disagreement, save it for another day.  If you have a third person present, that person's main job is to make sure that neither of you tries to push further at this point.  If more needs to be done, schedule a follow-up meeting; plan this one carefully too, to be as simple and focused as possible.

This process may not be easy, but it works.  Its power is that at the very least, it helps you to deal with your own pain and makes you a stronger person.  We cannot control most of what happens to us:  once it has happened, it has happened.  But we do have control over our responses, and this way of responding does amazing things. It helps us learn not to be so afraid of those who hurt us. It helps us become strong enough to acknowledge our own shortcomings without becoming self-destructive. And it helps us affirm our value and learn to express our own good intentions more clearly.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy Laura Rediehs is a member of Faculty Council and a past member of the Spiritual and Religious Life Committee; she was one of the facilitators at the 2004 Laurentian Leadership Weekend forum on academic freedom and civil discourse