Relating on the Level
Remember Transactional Analysis? Yes, that 1960s pop psychology where you look at the conversation you are having with a loved one and ask yourself which mode you are speaking from: Parent – Adult – Child? Whenever we initiate a conversation with another adult in the parent mode, as if to a child, we sound as if we are patronizing them. The other person feels forced into responding childishly. The key is to get our conversation on the same level. When we are expressing concern for someone’s behavior, we need to speak to them as one adult to another adult, accepting their agency for their actions.
Just for fun, let’s analyze the conversation Jesus has with Peter in Mark 8:31-38. It begins with Jesus speaking “openly” about his journey to the cross. He is speaking to his disciples as one adult telling other adults about what he sees ahead. Then Peter responds, “You can’t do that!” This is a parental voice addressing Jesus as if he were a child. Every time we do this, we get push back. The other person can respond, “Who made you my boss?” (or parent) Or, they can adopt the child’s voice and mock us saying, “Yes, ma,” and then proceed to ignore us. Either way, our conversation leaves the level field playing field where relationships are healthy and productive.
Jesus makes the unexpected choice of calling his friend, Peter, Satan. I would argue that Jesus has chosen to bring the conversation back to an adult—to--adult level. Jesus recently spent forty days in the wilderness wrestling with Satan. The devil was his equal. The devil was an adversary on the same level since Jesus was fully human. Just as other adults will sometimes block us from doing what we are called to do, so the temptations in the wilderness were an adult—to--adult experience for Jesus. He wasn’t putting Peter down by calling him the devil. He was revealing how seriously he had considered Peter’s opinion. Turning away from the cross was a real temptation. Jesus needed to put both his well-meaning friend’s advice and any child-like response to it, behind him.
Jesus speaks with maturity. For us to do the same we need to abandon our usual response to those who seek to be our parents. We also need to wrestle with our temptations. Sometimes it seems as if everything in this world is designed to lead us away from becoming the people we are meant to become.