"Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak: Living out the language of love in your family relationships," Robert E. Fisher

Pros: Very common-sense approach to family communication
Cons: Some might not appreciate the strongly religious approach
Rating: 4 out of 5

First published 2/3/2003

Most religious books on secular topics annoy me, for various reasons. Sometimes it feels like a bait and switch–the back of the book (or similar text) implies a nice, “normal” discussion of a topic, and instead I feel as though someone’s trying to push their religion at me. In some books there’s an implied superiority of “we religious people can find solutions to things that non-religious people can’t.” I also get irritated when religious reasoning is used in place of practicality and real-world reasoning. While in still other books, bits and pieces of religious text are taken out of context to justify views that I find annoying or even downright reprehensible.

This is the first time in memory that I’ve read a religious book on a secular topic and come out satisfied.

Subject Matter

One of the problems with buying books online is that you often don’t get to look at the back cover blurb of the book. Not all books are adequately described in online stores, and titles & subtitles sometimes don’t indicate the religious nature of certain books. Let’s take Robert E. Fisher’s “Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak: Living out the language of love in your family relationships.” I’m looking for ways to learn how to relate to others better, and from what I saw, this book looked interesting. From that title and the brief bit of description on the bookstore site, there was no indication that this was a strongly and thoroughly Christian book. However, if I’d been able to look at the back cover blurb, I would have found the following:

Dr. Fisher believes that the breakdowns occur when clear principles from the Bible about human relationships are violated. He writes, ‘I have been constantly amazed to see how perfectly and practically God’s word speaks to the problems of interpersonal communication.’

So I can’t accuse the author of a bait-and-switch. It’s just unfortunate that someone failed to arrange for the back cover blurb to be included in online stores.

Dr. Fisher has a background in psychology, and he is also a pastor and counselor. He brings all of this to bear to try to set out clear, specific guidelines to help us communicate with the people we love. When I first discovered the religious angle I was annoyed, but I decided to keep reading and I’m glad that I did. There’s no air of superiority in here; there are one or two small things that could potentially be interpreted in such a manner, but given the author’s attitude throughout, I honestly do not believe they were intended in that way.

While religious quotes are used as one method of supporting the author’s suggestions, they are by no means used in place of real-world reasoning and good psychology–so there was plenty in this book for me to read, agree with, and learn from. And finally, religion was not at all used to justify attitudes that I don’t agree with. In fact, Dr. Fisher has provided one of the nicest, calmest, most rational texts I’ve read in some time, and it was a pleasure to read it.

Ten Important Principles

Dr. Fisher believes that the following principles can lead to loving, harmonious family relationships:

#1. Stop talking and start listening: We talk too much! We spend too much time thinking about what we’re going to say and what people will think about it. If we slowed down and started listening to our loved ones, we might learn a lot about them to help us relate to them better. And they might see us as more loving and caring.

#2. Think before you speak: Don’t speak rashly. Think about your words, so you don’t say something hurtful without intending to. Realize that words have power, and that a hurtful sentence could stay with your loved one for the rest of his or her life.

#3. Speak the truth in love: You’ll note that little end part, “in love.” Dr. Fisher enjoins us to tell our loved ones the truth, but he reminds us not to use this little guideline as an excuse to say hurtful things (something Miss Manners has been trying to tell us for years!).

#4. Disagree, but don’t argue: We’re reminded that there’s a difference between disagreeing with someone and arguing with them. You shouldn’t hold your feelings inside and allow them to fester, but neither should you allow disagreement to explode into argument.

#5. Control your response: We are reminded that we have control over our behavior–a lot more control than most people would like to believe. Dr. Fisher reminds us that reacting calmly to people involves not just words, but tone and body language as well.

#6. Confess your faults: We’ll get along better with people if we can admit to our mistakes and personality flaws. It will help to keep us from reacting defensively when people get upset at us, which can prevent many arguments.

#7. Practice forgiveness: You don’t have to ignore hurtful behavior in order to forgive people. But once you forgive someone for something, you need to stop nagging them about the event.

#8. Eliminate nagging: Constantly reminding people of their faults is not going to cause them to reform. Dr. Fisher suggests that acting as a good example will work better. (I appreciate the fact that he pointed out that it isn’t just women who nag, given the stereotype.)

#9. Be constructive, not critical: Harshly criticizing people also doesn’t tend to make them change their behavior–it merely makes them defensive, or causes them to feel that you don’t care about them. Dr. Fisher suggests ways to constructively communicate our problems with other people.

#10. Leave vengeance to God: Holding grudges and trying to “get even” with others merely escalates problems–it doesn’t solve them. Seek better ways to handle your relationship problems.

With children, the matter becomes more complicated. When a child returns a verbal dart, it is taken as rebellion or disrespect. Yet a parent often is responsible for eliciting that remark by his own behavior.

–(Page 172) I wish more parents would read this book!

In All…

Dr. Fisher is gentle, practical, and reasonable. He explains things from both religious and secular standpoints, so that Christians and non-Christians alike can find something to convince them in here. He makes plenty of practical suggestions to help you put his guidelines into practice. Only once or twice did I find myself thinking that his suggestions failed to take some extreme or corner case into account, and that can easily be forgiven.

As religious approaches to secular topics go, this is the only good one I can think of right now. It was reasonable, interesting to read, practical, and extremely helpful. I might not have chosen to read it had I known, but I did get a lot out of it. I hope that more families will learn to communicate with the aid of Dr. Fisher’s suggestions.

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