We must learn to lay the sword of truth on its side. Then we can spread truth the same way we spread butter. Smoothly, evenly and without slicing anyone.

It’s 1989 and I have been sober for about six months. Then, almost as if by magic, my career takes a sharp turn for the better as I transition from technical sales to working as a copywriter at an advertising agency. In that new role, I would learn some valuable lessons about what to fight for, what to fight against, and how to fight in the right way.

The ad agency I worked for focused on business-to-business advertising—one business advertising their goods to another business—working primarily with industrial companies. My clients included Johnson Yokogawa, maker of process control instruments, and Georgia Pacific, maker of pulp and paper goods. The owners of the agency had left their previous jobs as engineers to start this company.

Briefly, the agencies I worked for in the 1990s were organized into two main departments: creative advertising and public relations. On the advertising side, there was another subdivision. On one side were the account representatives who went out and met with the clients. And on the other side was the creative team.

And the creatives were also split into two groups: copywriters and graphic designers or art directors. Of course, there were also project managers, finance people and human resources departments. The saying for ad agencies was: All our assets go down the elevator every day.

On my first assignment as a technical copywriter, the account representative was floored that the client only had one small edit for my copy. That was basically unheard of. Because receiving edits is part of the job for a copywriter. It’s the feedback that helps get everything just right.

If you’ve ever read a good book, you’ve probably noticed the laundry list of people the author thanks at the end. This book wouldn’t be the same without your help. And the editor usually gets one of the biggest shout-outs. Because good feedback is vital to doing good work.

The skill of giving good feedback

Over the years I worked as a copywriter, I interfaced with many engineers and scientists. My college major was chemistry, with a minor in business, so I could speak their language. One thing I noticed to be generally true about engineers and scientists is they are smart. Another thing I noticed—although I’d like to think I’m an exception—is they are not very good writers. Also, their people skills are not always great.

So as a copywriter, I often heard feedback like this: “This is terrible. Here are my edits.” Ouch. First, copywriters are humans who have feelings. Insulting them is not going to make them want to engage in the editing process. Second, a creative person needs to stay engaged in the editing process. Because editing is part of the job.

Third, it often happened that a highly educated person would provide really awful editing suggestions. As in, taking their feedback as is would really ruin the piece. But the client is always right, which meant my job was now about fighting to salvage good work. This happened so much, I eventually moved to an in-house marketing communications position where I had more say.

I was reminded of this recently when I asked my husband, Scott, to edit an essay I had written. (Sharing here with his blessing.) I knew he would have valuable suggestions, because he too has studied the Pathwork Guide’s teachings for decades. I especially wanted his input since this time I was referencing a spiritual teaching from another source.

Plus, he’s smart. He has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering and another master’s from GE in mechanical engineering. And he’s a good writer—yes, another exception—although his style is different from mine.

All this to say, I wasn’t terribly surprised when he said, “This is terrible. Here are my edits.” I explained to him the importance of developing a better filter so that I could receive his edits more gracefully. To clarify, having a good filter doesn’t mean we fake being nice. It also doesn’t mean we avoid having difficult conversations.

A good filter helps us navigate the rough terrain of difficult conversations. It smooths feathers and clears the way so that change can happen more easily. Having a good filter is about making an effort to heal instead of hurling unwelcome and unhelpful comments. It’s an art that opens doors, and an important skill to practice.

After incorporating most of his suggestions—today, I get the final say about my writing—Scott said he thought the essay was really very good. And editing my next essay went much more smoothly. As a grateful author, this feels like a good moment to express my heartfelt thanks to Scott for offering such helpful feedback.

How to hold the sword of truth

One of the most well-known archangels is Saint Michael. And one of the more interesting things about St. Michael is that most—maybe all—of the images of him show him holding a sword. Which begs the question, What does an angel in heaven need a sword for? What is St. Michael fighting?

In fact, St. Michael is fighting the forces of darkness. And he is doing so on our behalf. Darkness is also what we need to be fighting. To be exact, we need to fight the darkness still in us. Fortunately, when we truly become ready to join in fighting darkness—instead of aligning with darkness—St. Michael will give us our own sword. This is the sword of truth.

For darkness always contains untruth. So our work is to uncover untruth wherever it lies—especially inside ourselves—along with the negative energy attached to it. And then we need to reorient ourselves to the truth. In short, we must learn how to overcome the darkness by learning the right way to fight it.

Note, overcoming is not the same thing as always needing to win. The drive to always win comes from a misguided understanding about how to prevail in this land of duality.

“Living in this land of duality, we are continually harboring arbitrary either/or concepts. Some of these, we may not even be aware of. One of the most common ones, which causes one of our greatest limitations, is an attitude we hold about being a winner versus a loser.

“In this way of looking at things, being a winner means being ruthless. We must be selfish, trampling and triumphing over others and belittling them. This leaves no room for being kind, considerate or sympathetic. Should such emotions be allowed, one would fear turning into a loser.

“Being a loser, then, means to be unselfish. We are then self-sacrificing, kind, good and considerate people. Some of us will adopt one alternative, and some the other. But everyone fears the consequences of being the opposite of what they are.

“Neither of these two choices is good. Neither is better or worse. Both have the same misconceptions built into them. And both lead to nothing but loneliness, resentment, self-pity, self-contempt and frustration.

“When two people come together in a relationship from these opposite teams, it will be fraught with great friction that will lead to the point of hopelessness. The winner will be fearing impulses of genuine affection as much as they fear weakness and any inner desire for dependency. For the loser, their concept of goodness is equated with total approval from others. This means they can’t stand any form of criticism, whether it’s justified or not.

“Both sides are basically resenting in the other what they are fearing and fighting in themselves, which is their hidden tendency to be like the opposite choice. Oh brother.”

Finding Gold, Chapter 8: Winner vs Loser: Interplay Between the Self and Creative Forces

As we start doing our personal development work, we will gradually unwind the twisted wiring in ourselves. And this will bring us into more and more clarity. Our confusion about what to believe—about what is the truth—will go away.

But what can happen, as we start to see things more clearly, is we pick up the sword of truth and use it to stab people. After all, even though we’re accessing more light, we still have darkness within us. Overcoming our own darkness is a long process.

What we must learn to do is take this sword of truth and lay it over on its side. Then we can spread the same truth, but we can do it the way we spread butter onto bread. Smoothly, evenly and without slicing anyone.

Getting better is a co-creative process

Due to this need for getting good feedback, the art of writing is an inherently co-creative process. This doesn’t mean the editor gets full credit for our work. They don’t become the co-author. But we want to gratefully acknowledge their contribution.

In the end, writing well requires we have the humility to ask for and accept feedback. (And also have thick enough skin to receive feedback, however it comes.) We could extrapolate this sentiment to all of life. For, in a similar way, if we don’t have the humility to ask others to help us see the error of our ways, we’re not likely to live better.

As such, living in relationship with others can be considered a co-creative process. We are still the authors of our own lives. But if we want to make ourselves—and therefore our lives—better, we need to become willing to take in feedback and correct our ways. For that’s the best way to grow and develop.

Finding our faults

The Pathwork Guide calls relationships a “path within a path.” For by their very nature, relationships will tease all our darkness to the surface. This is a divine plan that—when used the right way—can help us work on transforming ourselves. So if we lean into our relationships—if we use them to surface our faults—we can become better, faster.

In the teaching on finding our faults, the Pathwork Guide explains that one of the hardest parts of the fault-finding process can be simply identifying our own faults. Here’s one way to go about it. Look for a pet fault, which is one of our faults we rather like. (Yes, oddly, we’re rather fond of our faults, which is partly why they’re so hard to resolve.) Then notice how we find the same fault highly irritating when we encounter it in someone else.

Here’s another way to get at our faults. We can ask our partner—or someone who knows us well—to tell us what they see. What are my faults?

Such a question, of course, may feel loaded with a pile of dynamite. This is where things get interesting. Because the thing that typically motivates someone to give us feedback about our faults is that our fault is really annoying them. For in reality, people are constantly triggering each other with their faults.

So when we ask someone to share feedback with us, it may seem like an invitation for them to blow up on us. To bring out a sword and use it to be destructive, instead of constructive. In fact, most people—if they care about us and we ask nicely—will do their best to give us honest feedback.

Two suggestions for receiving feedback

If we have the courage to ask someone to help us see our faults—and if they have the courage to give us such a gift—there are two things to keep in mind. One is that we should always search for the grain of truth. Yes, the other person may bring their own distorted view. In fact, since they’re human, they probably will. But if they are willing to try to help us, that’s not nothing.

Second, we must be willing to give the other the benefit of the doubt. In other words, if they say something in a way that feels hurtful to us, it’s possible they didn’t mean to hurt us. For our old residual pain—which easily gets rubbed the wrong way—is not their fault.

Or maybe they did mean to hurt us. Perhaps they didn’t lay their sword of truth on its side. Then we might give them a chance to try again, but this time more gently.

Not a linear process

In my last job in the corporate world, I worked for a manufacturer of high-performance polymers for 15 years, moving through various positions in marketing communications, marketing, and sales. By far, my favorite role was working for six years as the manager of the marketing communications department, called marcom for short.

Marcom handles the many promotional activities for a company. This includes the company’s website, brochures, technical manuals, press releases, trade advertising, trade shows, and the like. From a business-to-business ad agency’s perspective, someone in marcom is often the client.

At times, our marcom department directed the process for naming products or product lines. To help us, we hired an outside agency who specialized in naming products. One of the most fascinating aspects of this process was that there was very little line of sight to the final name during any stage of the process.

Let’s say we needed to meet with the product-naming agency four times for a particular project. In the first meeting, we would talk about various influences and factors to consider. Then the agency would come back with a list of name parts that were really more like syllables.

Without a lot of thought, each person on our team would select the ones we liked. In the next meeting, we would come down the funnel a little more. Now which combinations of name parts do we like?

Each time, the agency would do a trademark search and kick out anything we likely couldn’t get a trademark for. But then even during the third meeting, I often couldn’t see where we were going. And then, miraculously, it would all come together at the end. We would have a name we could get behind, and that we could trademark.

Open to the adventure

Similarly, sharing feedback with someone about their faults is not a linear process. So we shouldn’t go into a fault-finding adventure with someone thinking we know exactly how this ends. This is not a time to say our piece and expect the other to simply agree. Because course-correcting is a co-creative process.

Once we become willing to open up and talk—to really try to both hear and be heard—the other person may offer a perspective we never considered. They may have a history behind their fault we never knew. In fact, there is always a story behind people’s behaviors. The work is to sift through our stories and see where we strayed from the truth. Where did we get lost?

Fighting the good fight

Fighting is a fact of life, even though what we’re ultimately fighting for is peace. Because on this plane of existence, people show up with all kinds of destructiveness in their Lower Self. So if we want the light to win, we’re going to need to fight for it. We must fight the Lower Self, in whatever form it shows up.

The trick is figuring what is worth fighting for. What’s truly in our best interest and what’s just rebellion and resistance for the sake of spreading darkness? What are our motives? How are they mixed motives? And what’s the best way to fight? What will carry God’s goal of peace and harmony forward, and what will allow the forces of darkness to prevail?

The answers aren’t going to be easy. The solutions aren’t going to be simple. But if we are fighting for the cause of the light, and we are truly doing our own work to clear away our Lower Self obstacles, then we will be guided for going the distance. We will have insight about how to fight the good fight.

– Jill Loree

From Scott:

The story Jill tells here is true. I gave a lot of constructive feedback, but I was also harsh. I actually did use the word “terrible.”

Overall, I didn’t feel the piece could ever “get there.” I felt it should be abandoned.

And yet when I read the final draft, everything worked. So although my feedback was helpful, I was also wrong. Very humbling.

(And yes, Jill edited this comment.)

Scott Wisler

All essays in Get a Better Boat are available as podcasts.