As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
(Proverbs 27:17 NIV)
There is something fundamentally true in this statement. Indeed I think it can be stretched our further.
Every day we are making the people around us better or worse.
We make each other better by :
• Affirming good actions,
• Affirming good choices,
• Congratulating on the development of new competencies.
• Deprecating bad actions,
• Pointing our poor choices,
• Indicating areas where improvement is possible.
These are not things strangers can generally do for each other.
To be criticised is a painful existential experience.
To have some part of yourself held up to scrutiny and exposed at weak and wrong, can only be borne when the person doing so has earned the right to do so. A right they can only earn through proving consistently and convincingly their esteem for us. In which case their motives can at least be hoped to be pure – that they want our best – rather than being unworthy.
This process transforms not only individuals but their communities and societies.
When this process is absent, we make no forward progress in becoming a nobler, better person, in fulfilling our human potential and, at best, individuals and communities stay as bad as they are.
In the worst case scenario, in the presence of negative character reinforcement – applauding that which is base and poor and deprecating the good – we quickly take each other and our community into the deepest experience of hell.
So how do we choose to live?
Will we establish ‘sharpening’ relationships, invite mutually close observation and truth telling, in the hope of growth and advancement in character?
Or will we avoid the pain, difficulty and discomfort and accept the status quo?
Or will we embrace a pathology of mutual negative reinforcement that will take us all to hell?
The choice and the consequences are ours.