Art of confronting offensive behaviour

WELCOME to our special monthly series called Bible School Business School (BSBS).

The Human Capital Telescope with Brett Chulu

BSBS, now in its second year, searches for deep insights from the Bible pertaining to business, strategic human resources (talent, leadership and culture) and personal development.

This month, we trace the principles employed by ancient Hebrews in confronting people who exhibited undesirable and offensive behaviours.

In three short verses, Matthew 18: 15-18 (NKJV), Jesus laid out the principles and procedures for confronting indecorous conduct from members of an organisation: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.

If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”

From this passage we derive four principles:

Relationship-preservation
The Hebrew social system was founded on preserving relationships. The last part of verse 15 of Matthew 18 (NKJV) underscores this by emphasising that: “… If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” In fact, relationships were at the very heart of the constitution.

Mark 12: 30-31 (NKJV), quoting Jesus in reply to a question posed by a legal fundi of the time who had asked which was the first commandment of all, is very explicit: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

‘This is the first commandment’.

“And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’’
Can you imagine this: In verse 31, Jesus was summarising almost the entire constitution in just seven words! Just seven words! Preserving relationships was of so much cardinal importance that Jesus had to communicate it in the clearest and simplest way possible. No chance for equivocation.

When one wrongs you, it is not an occasion to be exploited by badmouthing the offender in public. It is a good principle of nurturing relationships to desist from saying negative things about people in their absence.

John Maxwell calls it the principle of defending the absent. It’s a biblically-anchored principle. You should have the courage to approach your offender and sort out issues one-on-one. The dignity of the offender has to be fully protected.

Firstly, the aggrieved has to take the initiative to clear the air. This cuts across the grain of commonsense — it is natural to expect the offender to make the first move to acknowledge their wrong and offer restitution. The procedure outlined by Jesus, instead, places the onus on the offended to take the lead.

Looked at more closely, the genius in this counter-intuitive procedure is there to see; it helps the offended to accelerate their own psychological healing by taking the initiative. Waiting for the offender to make a corrective move, which might never happen, is self-destructive.

Escalation principle
When offended, the temptation to spew it out to other people is very high. This is understandable, given the basic psychological need to release the pressure emanating from being psychologically attacked.

The wisdom of the three-step procedure outlined by Jesus is admirable because the probability of preserving relationships is diminished when people find out that their issues or problems are being discussed in unauthorised circles. Organisations have been known to be polarised as a result of this.

It is in light of this undesirable prospect of individual conflicts spilling into the wider organisation that the principle of escalation was crafted.

If the one-on-one step fails to yield redress, the next step is to get the assistance of a very limited number of facilitators, at most three, according to the ancient Hebrew procedure.

Limiting the number of people who know about the conflict was done for legal and relationship-preservation purposes. In the ancient Hebrew legal system, there were no prosecutors. Witnesses took the place of prosecutors.

At least two witnesses were required at law to establish the charges against an offender. For serious offences, three witnesses were required.

In the case of personal offences, the subject of this week’s discussion, when an offender refused to make a redress in the presence of witnesses, the matter had to be escalated to a formal hearing. That hearing could not be sanctioned without the input of witnesses.

It is important to note that the three-level escalation principle was designed to meet the twin pillars of justice and mercy on which the ancient Hebrew legal system rested. In today’s terms, the escalation principle ensured substantive and procedural fairness.

Decisiveness principle
When the offender refused to acknowledge their misdeed, the organisation had to dismiss the unrepentant offender from the body. Doing so was meant to communicate clearly to people inside and outside that the organisation balanced harmony with justice. The exhaustiveness of procedures meant that people inside the organisation would see clearly that the offender was rightfully dismissed. That way internal harmony would be preserved.

The text referred to treating the unrepentant offender “like a heathen and a tax collector”. This is not an offensive statement when interpreted in the context of the 1st Century AD Palestinian social dynamics.

Without delving into the nitty-gritties of that era, it suffices to mention that this statement served to drive the point that these two social groups subscribed to a culture that was not in harmony with the principles of the Hebrew people. That’s the point.

Policy brevity principle
Jesus was a master of brevity, a genius in stripping issues to their barebones. The principles and procedures for dealing with disciplinary issues in an organisation were summed up in just 86 words.

Crafters of policy in organisations should strive for brevity and clarity. Policies and procedures that are short and to the point are necessary. Voluminous policy documents contribute to clutter and confusion. Simplicity is a mark of genius.

Reflect on it
The purpose of confronting offensive behaviour is to preserve personal health, relationships and organisational harmony.

Chulu is a strategic HR consultant who is pioneering innovative strategic HR practices in both listed and unlisted companies. brettchulu@consultant.com