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22 March 2013

Graciously assertive

Graciously assertive

This week saw an historic double – the inauguration of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th pope, and the enthronement of the Justin Portal Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. But this week also saw an ironic double playing out. On one of the days that separated these moving occasions of leadership succession, the iconic red briefcase and the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer made their way to the Houses of Parliament to deliver the spring Budget. On the same day, the United Nations launched 'International Happiness Day', just as Premier Radio's Well-being Week hit its mid-point. My day of happiness started well; very well, in fact, but I did wonder how much happier I would be after the Budget...

I had been invited to be a studio guest on the live late-night radio show, so after a very full day at the office, punctuated by a spontaneous 'happiness' lunch, I headed home to prepare for the late night show. That afternoon, my Twitter feed had kindly offered me the 'Budget at a glance' so I did just that; glanced at it. Later that evening, as I thumbed through the Measuring National Well-being report produced by the Office for National Statistics, double-checked the briefing notes and the sample questions for the radio programme, my thoughts drifted briefly back to the Budget, but then turned to the additional briefing from the organiser of the up-coming radio show. Part of it read:

"Listeners/callers obviously have views that are consistent with or contradict your perspectives and are happy to express them. Some may be a little aggressive or overly-assertive,given their conviction. Don't bite the bait. Take a breath, be gracious and offer a response. In other words, be gracious – but appropriately assertive – with your answer. I know that this is 'old hat' to some of you, but I offer a few thoughts for those for whom this is new. Whatever you do have a great time on the show!"

The advice to be graciously assertive turned out to be timely advice. Clearly callers were not happy with the Budget and a whole raft of other things, and the UN's 'happy day' didn't even get a mention! The radio programme is over, but I've held on to the 'graciously assertive' mantra, a reminder that "a soft word turns wrath" (Proverbs 15:1) and how important – that is unifying and mature - it is to 'speak the truth in love' (Ephesians 4:15). When the former Archbishop of Canterbury was asked what advice he would offer to his successor, he said: "Find what nourishes you and make room for it." More timely words, perhaps?

The advice to be graciously assertive was not only timely for me this week, but it was easy to take, because the sender modelled it so well. I wonder what last-minute briefing Pope Francis the First and Rev Justin Welby were offered this week that they might be holding onto in their respective new roles, and if those who offered it are modelling it too? Few people will have the opportunity to be Archbishop of Canterbury and even fewer will be considered to become the pope. But to be graciously assertive is an opportunity that is open to all, both to say it, but more importantly to demonstrate it. And unlike a seasonal Budget statement or a designated day, its impact can be life-changing and ongoing for those who choose to demonstrate it, as well as for those who receive it.

Rev Katei Kirby, partnership officer at the Methodist Church