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Teflon relationships: How to clean up the mess

To encourage students to consider practical strategies they might use when personal relationships need attention (SEAL theme: Social skills).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage students to consider practical strategies they might use when personal relationships need attention (SEAL theme: Social skills).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need two frying pans, one very black and burned, the other a pristine non-stick brand.


  1. Who likes washing up after a meal?

    Allow time for student responses and leader comments.

    In my experience, one of the worst things to have to wash is a pan that’s been used to fry ingredients.

    Display the blackened pan.

    It’s as if the cooking process welds the (slightly burnt) egg, meat or vegetables to the pan’s surface. The dishwasher can’t cope with it. It has to be cleaned by hand, with vigorous use of a scouring pad, and can result in an aching arm for hours afterwards.

  2. Today I’d like to introduce you to Dr Roy Plunkett, a researcher for Kinetic Chemicals of New Jersey in the USA. In April 1938, 75 years ago, he was working on producing a new coolant to be used in fridges. During his experiments he discovered that the insides of his flasks became lined with an unknown creamy white substance that was oddly slippery. The substance, a fluorinated plastic, was given the name Teflon. It became widely used in machinery where smooth slippage was required. However, it wasn’t until 1954 that a French engineer, Marc Gregoire, following a suggestion by his wife, coated the inside of a pan with Teflon, and so produced the first non-stick frying pan.

    Display the second pan.

    Dr Plunkett and Monsieur Gregoire will forever be in the debt of all who’ve benefited from the ease with which a non-stick pan is washed.

  3. It’s difficult to avoid creating a mess, isn’t it? It’s like that saying, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. And I’m not just talking about the kitchen. Whatever we do, say or think, there’s frequently some issue that has to be sorted out. Every decision we make has a consequence. Every word we speak can be misinterpreted. Those close to us even have the knack of reading our minds.

    Inevitably there will messy relationships. So when someone is angry at us, hurt by us, alienated from us, when a relationship goes sour, how good are we at clearing up the mess?

  4. Earlier I asked the question: ‘Who likes washing up after a meal?’ There weren’t many who expressed any enthusiasm for the job. Yet, if we want to clean up the mess in our relationships, it’s first of all necessary for someone to take responsibility.

    A mess that’s left to fester can only get worse. In the kitchen it leads eventually to food poisoning. In a relationship it can lead to far worse. Even when we don’t feel we were originally to blame, it’s a good idea for us to take the responsibility to initiate the clean-up. In fact, if we were all to act that way, then the mess would get dealt with from all sides.

  5. Next, let the responsibility lead to some action. Good intentions aren’t enough. The gap that is between people needs a bridge of words or deeds. But be prepared to suffer some reaction as you build the bridge. The other person may not yet be ready. They may have some guilt or pain to work through first.

    In fact, things may get worse before they get better. But keep going. There’s no use in a bridge that doesn’t reach the opposite bank. Or maybe you need to wait so the other person can start to build from their side? It’s rather like soaking the messy pan in warm, soapy water for a while before dealing with it again.

  6. Everything I’ve mentioned so far sounds rather like the arm-aching washing-up method. It might be better if we could create Teflon relationships, ones where nothing sticks. A starting point might be, when a relationship has been cleaned up, to both forgive and forget. All resentments, fears and issues are left in the past.

Time for reflection

Jesus gave a series of suggestions for what a person in a Teflon relationship would be like. He said that people who are thirsty for rights and justice, who show mercy, who try to restore peace, are those who will live a life that is happy and blessed. Why? Because theirs is a life full of healthy relationships where the washing up is always done and nothing can stick.

Display both pans.

Which would you like to be? The choice is yours.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for strong, healthy relationships.
Thank you for the pleasure when a broken relationship is restored.
Today I invite you to help me to take some responsibility
in cleaning up any mess that remains in my life or in the lives of my friends.


‘I’ll stand by you’ by The Pretenders

Publication date: April 2013   (Vol.15 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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