Most of us don’t like being the bearer of bad news. On the contrary, we would rather be associated with the verse from the prophet Isaiah: “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (Isaiah 52:7) – a verse repeated by Paul in Romans 10:15. The positive image brings to mind a runner going to or perhaps returning to a community to bring welcome news from afar. Such a messenger will be greeted with joy.
Not so with those who bring bad news. In ancient times, if a messenger ran to an enemy camp with a message not well received by the hearers, it would be unfortunate but not inconceivable that the hearers might take out their frustration on the messenger. It was a dangerous role for the one delivering the news.
Nothing much has changed today in that regard. While we don’t send runners to enemy camps with bad news anymore, we still find ourselves from time to time in the uncomfortable position of telling others things they don’t want to hear.
If you are the messenger, then you have the obligation to deliver the message clearly and with whatever level of compassion seems appropriate. You don’t really have the option of not delivering the message without failing at an important task. Friends, managers, coworkers, family members, even strangers may find themselves in such a role and perhaps with a message originating from themselves and not from someone else.
If you are the recipient of the message, then you have to control your emotions and react to the message rather than the messenger. That isn’t easy. It’s human nature to lash out at personal criticism or in response to news that is upsetting. Still, the adult response is to absorb the message, take some time to process it if needed, and then respond appropriately.
Next time you hear something you’d rather not, try to remember leap year lesson #317 – Don’t shoot the messenger: You might miss the message.