February 23 - March 1, 2009
Our editorialist is off this week. Here is a guest column.
Not So Dumb!
By Tuck Aaker
Over the years my life has taken me into many different places, many different situations and more than two or three careers. I have had some successes and I have had some failures and in looking back at my life as a whole, the successes I have had were the times I had a positive mission to achieve and I looked at every option before making a decision. Many times this meant asking some “dumb” questions in situations I just didn’t understand, but the times I have foregone asking the questions because I felt that I should know the answer --- many times I failed at what I was trying to achieve.
In working with congregations there are times when this same situation happens, since I am a layperson, who considers himself an “outsider” in theological matters. Many pastors will explain to me that in matters concerning management or operations, that they welcome my input since if I feel somewhat unprepared theologically, they also feel unprepared to meet some of the day by day challenges that occur. So together we ask ourselves some “dumb” questions that should have an easy answer, but just don’t.
Over me entire career, regardless of what profession or business I have worked with, it has nearly always been the case that those people who were willing to ask those questions, as naïve as they may sound, are the people that became the most successful. They have placed the fear of looking “dumb” below their goal of making the right decisions. Many sophisticated, intelligent people tragically invested in Bernard Madoff’s “make believe” investment company without knowing what they were investing in. They never asked the “dumb” question, ”where do all the dividends come from” and those that did were reportedly rejected as investors.
In the life of our congregations, situations arise sometimes in multiples every day that we really don’t understand. There are staffing questions, personal communications with the members, finding places for outreach in our community, budgeting and financial concerns and on and on. There are no end to the times when we need to know more than what the obvious facts are and we can ask some ”dumb” questions to “clear the air”. Here are a few.
• “Let me see if I understand. Is this what you are saying?” This many times will reveal misunderstandings, misused words and indicates good listening.
• “Why are we doing this?” Focuses on the goals or the mission.
• “What if” This opens up the conversation to other options.
• “How do we know?” Introduces the reliability and responsibilities.
• I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Can you say that in another way to make it clearer to me?” Many a mistake can be avoided by hearing the statement in a different way.
As Seth Freeman, professor of negotiations and conflict management at New York University writes, “Think of it this way. “Dumb” is the new smart. Ask “dumb” questions and stop fooling ourselves into pretending we understand could be as crucial to a bright future as anything else.” Makes sense to me --- and it’s just good stewardship.
Tuck Aaker is a retired businessman who now consults and specializes on stewardship issues for the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the ELCA. He shares his expertise in Stewardship Now, a column he writes for ELCA Stewardship Resources.
New This Week:
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