Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Tart words make no friends; a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” These are great words to consider when communicating with elected officials. Always remember to use a little honey and shelve the vinegar. No one likes to get a stern lecture, even when it is needed. There are examples in the Bible. One of my favorites is the prophet, Nathan.
When Nathan discovered that King David was having an affair with a married woman, he did not buy an advertisement in the Jerusalem Times to excoriate the king. Nor did he organize a protest march in front of the palace. He didn’t send out a newsletter to any constituents either. Nathan didn’t even write a Facebook post about it. 2 Samuel 12 tells the story of Nathan’s visit. He went to the king and told him a story about a man with many sheep and a man with only one. The man with many had stolen from the man with only one. When the tale angered King David, Nathan told him that he was the man who had stolen the only wife of another. According to my understanding, Nathan got his point across by only telling the one who needed to hear it.
The Velvet Covered Brick
Another biblical example is the Apostle Paul in his letter to Philemon. Philemon was a slave owner and had a runaway slave named Onesimus. Paul had found Onesimus and converted him to Christianity. The death penalty was allowed for runaway slaves. Philemon had a legal right by law to kill Onesimus for running away. Now, Paul could have pulled some Apostolic clout and told Philemon not to kill Onesimus. Better yet, Paul could have helped Onesimus avoid Philemon. But, that is not what Paul did. I heard a sermon once that said Paul hit Philemon with a velvet-covered brick. Maybe Ben Franklin would have called it a brick covered with honey.
Paul uses the following terms to describe Philemon: dear friend, fellow worker, brother, and partner. A cynic might say that Paul was buttering up Philemon. I believe that Paul was genuine. How blessed both men were to have each other in their lives! How could Philemon refuse Paul’s request to take Onesimus back? Paul didn’t ask Philemon to take Onesimus back as a slave but as a brother! Now, that may have been a pretty heavy lift for Philemon. Only a genuine and respectful relationship between Paul and Philemon made it possible for Paul to ask Philemon for such a favor.
When we grassroots activists go before our elected officials, it behooves us to use these approaches. Believe me; I am guilty of doing the exact opposite. I suppose there is a time and place to refer to elected officials sworn to protects us as “sheep-killing dogs,” but I can tell you from experience that after you play that card once, those officials will always keep their distance.
It is far more effective to get to know your elected officials. Be humble and respectful and find common ground. Find out what topics they indeed have developed a passion for addressing. Explain your wishes to them with data and stories in terms that they can identify. These types of connections help build opportunities to come back, again and again, to get good things accomplished. The Apostle Peter stressed this very point in 1 Peter 5:5 (NIV) as he quoted Proverbs 3:34, which reads: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Peter continued in 1 Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
When you are humble, your time may be now! Use a little honey and shelve the vinegar.