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“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,” says Matthew 25, “he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
In many ways, “Safe People” by Christian authors Henry Cloud and John Townsend is precisely about this, but on a much more personal level – namely, it is a book about the art of being able to tell the sheep from the goats in your own life. So, get ready to learn how to differentiate between people who are good from you and those who aren’t, and prepare to discover how to make safe choices in all kinds of relationships, from family to friendship, romance and work!
There are, really, only two types of people in this world: safe and unsafe. Safe people are those who can help you become a better person solely by their presence in your life; they are, to refer back to the parable we just told, the “sheep” of the world. Unsafe people, on the other hand, are the “goats” – namely, the people who can be damaging to your confidence, trust, and even your health. The skill of being able to tell these two types of people apart is called character discernment.
Despite being one of the most important skills to have in life, it is also one of the most neglected. “We do not get a lot of training in evaluating character,” bemoan Cloud and Townsend. “We tend to look on the outside and not the inside of a person. So, we choose people based on outward appearance, and then experience the inside of them and the pain of being in a real relationship with them – and come up very empty-handed.”
Indeed, it’s quite difficult to pick out the bad guys in real life. That’s because it’s usually the most winsome and promising individuals you’ll meet in life that will end up having the most troubling character faults. So how do you know whom to trust? There are many things you’ll need to understand to answer that question properly. The first one is that, while there are many different kinds of unsafe people, most of them fall under the following three categories:
There are two ways to learn things in life – by positive example or by way of denial. The latter way is essentially the study of what not to do, and can teach you much more about the world because it simultaneously teaches the opposite. For example, we’re about to describe the 20 traits of unsafe people – 11 personal and nine interpersonal. However, since for every negative trait, there is a corresponding positive one, by describing unsafe people, we’ll also give a good working definition of a safe person – in absentia. Why not do the opposite? Because, as human beings, we are biased towards negativity. And because it’s much better to learn what to avoid – what to embrace will then come quite naturally. So, without further ado, here are the 11 personal traits of unsafe people.
Now that we’ve gone over the 11 personal traits of unsafe people (i.e., the traits that describe who they are), allow us to go over their nine interpersonal traits, that is to say, the nine traits which describe how they connect to others. Here they are:
According to the Christian worldview – and, indeed, many other religions – God never intended for people to suffer the effects of an unsafe world. When he created the world, he created a world safe for everybody. The Garden of Eden was a place of total provision and ultimate harmony. Unfortunately, then came sin in the world through Satan, Adam, and Eve and it manifested itself in four areas: sin by us, sin against us, and sin through Satan’s strategies, and sin in the world. That’s how our ancestors, the first people to inhabit our planet, lost their safety. But that’s also how people are losing their safety today, on a daily basis.
First of all, it’s through their own actions. We sin against safety when we are envious of others, when we act as if we are self-sufficient, when we think that we are entitled to special treatment or when we transgress against God’s laws. Sometimes, we can also lose safety because of other people’s sins against us. For example, our bonding process may have been disrupted because our parents had abandoned us as children. Just as well, our partners or friends might not respect us for who we are or treat our boundaries as part of our freedom, thereby not allowing us to mature into adults.
Unfortunately, even if we are neither sinning nor being sinned against, safety can be taken away from us by Satan, through three of his primary tactics: by accusing, tempting, and sifting. Even worse, safety gets destroyed systematically nowadays by the very world we inhabit. Our unchristian, consumerism-driven societies are sinful in themselves, as they are built in such a way that make safe relationships – rare, and unsafe – a necessity. If you’ve wondered if you are in a safe relationship, have in mind that the safest are the ones that do the following three things: 1) they draw you closer to God; 2) they draw you closer to other people; and 3) they help you become the real person God has created you to be. So, unless you can describe a relationship that way – get out of it!
“Safe People” may not be the best book by Henry Cloud, but it’s certainly not one you’d want to skip – especially if you are a Christian! Not only is the book a great Christian manual to finding people that build you up rather than tear you down, but it’s also a smartly structured, thorough theoretical overview of many interesting concepts and ideas regarding relationships which might talk to you even if you are not religious at all.
These are the three main qualities of a safe person: dwelling, grace, and truth. In other words, safe people can build safe relationships because they are honest, are unconditionally there for the other person, and have the ability to truly connect with them. Everybody needs such a person in their lives. But before finding one, try to become a safe person yourself. Put otherwise – and to paraphrase Luke 6:41 – before looking at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye, pay attention to the plank in your own eye!
Henry Cloud is an American Christian self-help author. He has a PhD in clinical psychology and runs a private practice with John Townsend, a longtime friend. With Townsend, he also cohosts the na... (Read more)
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