Caring Enough to Confront by David Augsburger (Regel Publishing, 2009) is a wonderful book on an often neglected aspect of honest communication. Originally published in 1973, this book has withstood the passing of time and has sold over half a million copies.
I am self-admittedly very bad at handling conflict. To use Augsburger’s labeling of conflict management styles, my natural reaction is usually the “No Way—Avoid” strategy. That is why I found this book so useful. The book helped me to see some of my negative patterns and offered workable strategies for reforming my conflict management. I imagine this book will be helpful to many readers.
Conflict as a Gift
Augsburger makes a legitimate case for seeing conflict as normative, and not always something to be avoided. “Conflict of itself is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Conflict simply is” (11). Most people know this intuitively. Conflict is the stuff of ordinary relationships. Augsburger, however, writes to show that conflict, in the form of intentional caring-confrontation, can be the environment for radical change and deeper relational intimacy. “Confrontation, uncomfortable as it can be, is a gift” (61). Furthermore, he says, “when unchallenged, human beings often become self-centered, individualistic, self-absorbed” (61). What we need, then, is a strategy for confronting each other in love with the goal of personal growth for all parties involved. When this is the case, conflict can be extremely useful. This book offers the solution in the form of care-fronting—a term that Augsburger coined. “Care-fronting has a unique view of conflict. It sees conflict as natural, normal, neutral and sometimes even delightful” (11). The book unpacks the dual priority of giving and receiving caring confrontation.
Augsburger throughout the book gives a clarion call for the importance of honest communication. This is an aspect of assertive communication. Augsburger simply labels it, ‘care-fronting.’ Care-fronting holds together the need to graciously interact with another person while being bold enough to express your own personal feelings and/or confront particular behaviors in the other. “Truth and love are the two necessary ingredients for any relationship with integrity” (25). Those who possess this dual ability reach a high level of relational maturity. “Maturity is manifested in learning to be angry (at behaviors) and loving (towards persons) at the same time” (53). On the other hand, avoidance of confrontation is actually a form of immaturity and can be extremely damaging to the relationship. “Avoiding honest statements of real feelings and viewpoints is often considered kindness, thoughtfulness or generosity. More often it is the most cruel thing I can do to others. It is benevolent lying” (31).
Another strength of the book is Augsburger’s insistence on the role of personal responsibility. Regardless of how others behave or even confront us, we have the responsibility to own our part and respond accordingly. Personal responsibility is an important component of the care-fronting schema. “Effective confrontation is sharply focused on responsibility, expressed responsibly, addressed to responsibility” (90). This ensures that change is possible. Confrontation, in light of the gospel, is meant to bring about transformation. This is only possible when personal responsibility is owned and acted upon. Personal responsibility is a crucial skill for emotional stability. Augsburger calls it ‘reclaiming the gavel’ and explains it this way; “I reclaim responsibility for me. I am no longer giving you the power to reject me and cut me off from love, joy, and happiness. I am re-owning myself” (106). We reserve the right to render judgment for ourselves. We no longer have to live under the scrutiny of others. This skill also frees us from being frozen by past guilt or shame. “Responsibility recognizes the ability to respond…in the future; I have no ability to respond in the past. The past, being the past, is not subject to change” (90). Personal responsibility is an important feature of Ausburger’s compelling argument.
The book does contain minor shortcomings. At times I struggled with the writing style (some sections felt disorganized and difficult to follow). And, there were ventures into controversial topics to illustrate (like the unnecessary and incomplete critique of “the just war theory”). Nonetheless, those small quibbles do not detract from the overall usefulness of the book. Caring Enough to Confront is a very solid and helpful book.