I wise mentor once said to me, “If you want to know what people really want, watch what happens.” Words are fine, actually more than fine. I love words. I make a living putting words on the page in a particular order to get a particular message out. But when it comes to character, watching what happens will tell you more about a person than their words.
Watching what you do will also tell you what you really want, no matter what you insisted upon verbally. I can tell you I’m over your slight when you stood me up at the movie theater. It’s OK. All is forgiven. But if you call me again and get the cold shoulder, you’ll know what I really think.
Words can be used as a subterfuge, to disguise our real desires and inclinations. Words can be true and direct, or they can misguide. But it’s much harder to cover up with our actions. Our actions display what we really want.
This is true even of larger issues. People have ended relationships–marriages, jobs, business associations, sports teams, etc.–not by stating openly that they want out. Rather, they acted out until someone else–a spouse, boss, coach, etc.–ended the relationship for them. This gives the one who wanted out the advantage of being “out” without taking responsibility. They can say, “He left me!” “They fired me!” “The coach threw me off the team!” But it’s what they truly wanted all along.
The tricky part is, sometimes we act out what we really want, yet we are so adept at self-deception that we don’t realize what we’re doing. We can complain about happened–and mean it. We can feel the pain of loss and the grief of separation–and it’s real. But something down deep really wanted the outcome we got.
As my wise mentor said, “If you want to know what people really want, watch what happens.”
Last evening a commercial came on for Happy Campers, think Pillow Pet that zips into its ‘home”. At the end of the ad to a peppy tune, the seemingly hypnotized child’s voice sang “Happy Campers make everything better.” While I am sure that Happy Campers add a bit of stuffed animal fun to life, I seriously doubt that they make everything better.
In our world filled with noise and words clamoring for our attention and our funds, these types of claims become more and more hyperbolic. Recently after visiting our branch bank we received a call to ask about our experience. As the questions proceeded the bank representative said “Could you imagine a world without our bank?”
Yes, as a matter of fact I can. Having moved as often as I have I don’t tend to exude tremendous bank loyalty. Yet, after the call I was astounded of the bank’s self importance and desire to give life to such a claim from satisfied customers like me.
In a world filled with noise we are all tempted at times to aggrandize a statement or two to get attention. We may do this so that what we have to share might break through the cacophony of sound that floods our age.
We may do this for a completely different reason. At some point we have felt the need to firm up our answer or add a bit more emphasis. “I really mean it this time.” Behind this assertion is the fact that in the past we dropped the ball or that we didn’t mean it last time.
“Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”* (Matthew 5:37) Jesus in His continual desire to not merely address our behavior, but the heart behind it, prompts us to consider our verbal responses. Any time we are tempted to strengthen our response we need to consider our motivation.
At times it is because we haven’t kept our word in the past. Why not? Sometimes it is because we have been unavoidably detained. Other times it is because we have said “yes” too casually, when our true setting was “no”, or maybe we have said “yes” to so many opportunities that there is no possible way that our schedules would allow. Either way we have a verbal integrity issue that stems from the heart.
Casual “yes” often means that we like saying “yes” to people. “No” seems so mean, unless of course you aren’t going to follow through on your “yes”. Often this stems from not caring enough for people to tell them the truth, but selfishly offering “yes” to appease ourselves in the short run. With a heart that is too concerned with people pleasing casual “yes” quickly erodes our verbal integrity.
The “yes” to everything can stem from inability to really assess our time or a covetousness heart that wants to do it all. In the fullness of God’s love we for us we are entrusted with limited time. This time constraint necessitates prioritization, seeking first, so that we can do the things that are most important. “Yes” to everything can be a desire to live outside the bounds that God gives us as stewards of our time. Filled with the hunger to do it all, we schedule three things as once and realize that one of the things we can’t do is be counted on.
In a world of noise we all need people who we can count on. “Yes” may not ring with the bravado of our culture, but there is true blessing in consistently maintaining verbal integrity.
Thanks for reading,
On Saturday morning I woke up just after seven. I took a cup of coffee into my study and read while the cats climbed around on my desk and inspected everything they thought interesting. By nine I was restless and I drove to Isle of Palms—top down on a brilliant morning. A quick stop for another coffee and then I strolled along the water’s edge. The ocean was in a morning calm and the people scattered along the beach, also walking, seemed calm too.
A particular problem rolled around in my mind. What to do? I strolled and mulled—if I do this, then that might happen, etc. My eyes took in the sand just in front of me: bird tracks, broken shells, lines made by waves come and gone. A seagull caught my attention. He stood still and faced the ocean. I looked around and saw more, dozens more, and more still. There were perhaps one hundred gulls. They stood on stick legs facing the water toward the northeast. They seemed to gaze at the morning sun, the sun at an angle in the perfect sky. All of them, along the beach, gazed with heads raised. The attitude of their pear-shaped bodies synchronized.
I stopped and stood with the gulls. For several minutes I stood as still as they did and faced the morning sun. The warmth ran over me. Light particles played on the water in a broad way from the shore to the horizon. The gulls and I stood and gazed.
Two children bolted into view from the left. Their intent was to make the gulls fly, to drive them away. The children, a boy and a girl, laughed and jumped and yelled and the gulls around me shot up and away. Is it possible to feel offended for another? I felt offended for the gulls; then for myself.
We do what these children did sometimes, don’t we? We pound through a peaceful setting where all is at rest simply for our own amusement. We disrupt things for entertainment. Don’t we?
The children moved on and I stayed in place. Then the gulls returned. A few at time, they came back. They hovered and landed on their spindly legs and positioned themselves to face the Northeast. We all settled down and gazed again into the light.
The gulls were not angry toward the children. They did not file a complaint or stand around and cry over the unjust disruption. Their day was not ruined.
When the disruption came, they rose up and waited and then landed again, and stood facing the light of the sun on a brilliant morning. They simply returned to gaze at the light.
I like that. I may try that myself.
Do you ever feel like not going to work?
Do you generally go anyway?
The answer to both of these is yes, but the second question begs another.
Why? We may respond that people are counting on us and we don’t want to disappoint. We may consider that we, for the most part, enjoy our work greater than our initial morning lethargy. We may go to work because we like or need the money. However you may answer this question isn’t as important to the reality that it represents.
What We Choose
These three questions reveal that we chose to be people of principle. There is some principle or ideal that we are committed to living that shapes who we are and what we do, over and above how we feel.
In our modern world we struggle with what to do with our feelings. Yesterday I talk with a man who talked about doing things far our side of his desired character justifying it all with “But you know how angry I can get.”
The Rightful Place of Feelings
Our feelings are real. Our feelings are strong. An initial flash of anger comes on strong, but what we do with it is vitally important. We have the choice to feed our anger and ensure that it remains inflamed or we can remember the principles by which we live. Some count to ten. Others seek to apply Ephesians 5:26 dealing with the anger so that it doesn’t persist. Although our feelings are real and powerful they are not the most important or operative reality.
If they were, our world would look completely different. Imagine what it would look like to act on every feeling. In a moment of insecurity we may write off good friends having misinterpreted a laugh. In a flash of fear we can unreasonable restrain ourselves from reasonable risk and the blessings of an opportunity. Recently the folks at Sprite encouraged us to “Obey your thirst.” While our thirst is important, we process our thirst through a principled and relational reality to act on it appropriately.
There is a constant temptation to get swept away with our emotions. We see so many others do this that it helps to be reminded that we choose to be people of principle. On June 2, 2010 Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, was throwing a perfect game.
No No Hitter
In the 9th inning a ball was hit, fielded by the first baseman and flipped to Galarraga covering first clearly getting the out. The umpire inexplicably called the runner safe. Fans booed, other players argued, but Galarraga show a flash of surprised, then smiles and walked to the mound to complete a one hitter. A once in a lifetime opportunity for a perfect game derailed by a bad call wasn’t enough to derail this man of character.
May we be intentional about the principles by which we live, have a health approach to our feelings, be prepared for those moments when emotions swell and be found to be people of character.
What do you think?
Thanks for reading.
As a boy I remember sitting in the car hoping that my favorite song would come on the radio. Having just begun to care about music I couldn’t wait to hear the song that caught my ear. Every other song that played filled me with hope that we must be getting closer to my song.
Then I discovered that it was possible to buy the record and have the ability to play my song at home whenever I wanted. But the record was filled with other songs that I really didn’t want and I dreamt about some machine at the record store where you could buy just the songs that you wanted.
When Dreams Come True
It was dreams like this that have given rise to iTunes and personal listening devices to orchestrate the sound track of our lives. (For the record I didn’t invent iTunes or get any royalties from my boyhood vision.) Now we can have exactly what we want: the perfect song at the perfect moment. Even in a car full of people listening to “Fireflies” for the thousandth time, we can satisfy our desire to hear that plaintive 10,000 Maniacs song that speaks to the moment.
The technological advances of our time are incredible and the abilities that we have been give to personally shape our world, or at least our experience of it, is unparalleled. We have been given amazing power to manicure our lives through the abundance of choice.
Is This the Good Life?
It would seem that the logical end to this reality would be greater contentment and enjoyment of what is, yet I wonder if we haven’t inadvertently begun to focus on what is not. The incredible array of choice gives us the thought that each moment, each meal, could be better, resulting in an epidemic of discontentment.
It was not that long ago that merely going out to dinner was a treat. Now with the amazing panorama of cuisine at our disposal and the steady supply of cooking shows that inform us of what is “spot on,” we seem to be less satisfied with what once was considered a great meal. I know that there are times that I finish a good meal and think, but the red sauce at the other restaurant is better.
Why Do We Seem Discontented?
The challenge of the culture of choice is that we are wooed into a sense that we can shape every moment and meal into perfection. With our idealized perfection in mind it is not surprising that we feel disappointment and discontentment when things don’t meet these lofty expectations.
This modern malaise is problematic not only for moments and meals, but in relationships and our work. When we apply our “perfected ideal” to others there is no room for another person to be the real them and little room for healthy relationships. Occupational discontentment is exacerbated by the perpetual thought that the grass is greener—lavishly greener—elsewhere.
I am not saying that these technological advances or choices are bad. Like all of creation, they are good. But we need to continue to beware how we let this culture of choice shape us. The first step toward contentment is our awareness of how the abundance of choice impacts us. Do we merely live in the plethora of options or do we being to expect the world to conform to our expectations?
The second step is intentionally focusing on being content. In Philippians 4:11 Paul writes “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” This verse encourages us as contentment can be learned. We can practice fighting our selfish temptation to shape each moment and letting the music play. We can train ourselves again to enjoy the blessings of what is and not focus on what is not. We can enjoy the freedom of a good baked potato merely being good.
Part of the cultural crisis of character is the wide spread lack of contentment. May we discover both, the goodness of abundant choice and the richness of contentment.
Thanks for reading. Let us know what you think?
We pause for a brief moment of shameless self-promotion. Wayne has started a newsletter on how to handle anxiety.
If you’re interested, you can sign up at http://www.anxietyhelp-newsletter.com/free/.
It’s free! You’ll even get a bonus guide.
We now return to our program in progress.
I’m on Facebook now and have been for many months. At first, a few of my close friends found me, although I’m not sure how. Good stuff. These were people I was invested in and who felt a strong tie to me. We had a nice time catching up and sharing information about our lives. We chatted, shared photos, and it all worked well because we knew each other. So, calling them my “friends” seemed right and appropriate.
Long Lost Acquaintances
Then something interesting happened. People I used to know, but haven’t had contact with in 30 years began to request “friendship” status. Because I’m a nice person, and because it might be interesting to see what they had been up to over the last three decades, I began to accept their invitations. I also extended friendship requests to a few long lost acquaintances.
But after I accepted their friendship, I never heard from them. I offered some initial contact with some of them, and had a few responses that were brief. Most, however, did not respond at all.
A Collections of Names
I noticed that some of my “friends” had hundreds of friends. I saw one “friend” who had almost 2,000 friends. Wow! Then it hit me. They are not in contact with most of their friends. They have simply accumulated a list of names and photos that represent people with whom they have no intention of having any serious dialogue. It’s as though they simply liked to collect “friends” without the concomitant real relationship that typically characteristic friendships. Like a baseball card collection. They were friends without the benefits and responsibilities of friendship.
So, for the most part, I’ve stopped accepting such “friend” requests. It’s not (let’s be honest) very interesting to have my Facebook account filled with the musings and quips and of people I don’t know. I really don’t care what they had for dinner. I don’t need to spend time gazing at photos of their grandchildren—as cute as they are. So I’ve stopped.
How Does This Shape Us?
What does it say about the nature of friendship, when we claim to have 500 friends, most of whom we never correspond with or really care about.
How does that view of friendship shape our character and how we live in the world?
Thanks for reading,
How do we know what good character is and what it is not?
I read a fascinating blog post this morning. The author spoke about compassion, love, kindness, and other life-giving things. I agreed with him. But I wondered: where do they come from? How do we get them?
Some say that such attributes are built-in to the human spirit. They come with the base, out-of-the factory model. I agree with that, somewhat (the “somewhat” is for another post). So OK, we come with these things. But where did we come from? And how did these attributes get put into us?
Because I’m believe in God; and, more specifically, in the God who came into the world in Jesus the Christ, I believe that God is the ground of all character.
All of the character attributes we value–love, gratitude, kindness, compassion, etc.–are available because they are part of the person of God. Without a source or ground for our character or morality or way of life that’s outside of ourselves, then it could well be something we’ve made up. And who says what I make up is better than what you make up?
Otherwise, we’re Just Making it Up
Your idea of character may contain the feature of being honest. Someone else may laugh at that and say it’s better to do what you have to to get what you want, even if that means lying when it’s convenient. (The truth is not always convenient.) Who’s to say who’s on track and who’s off track unless the entire concept of character and how to live it out comes from outside of ourselves–a great source that gives us guidance and knowledge and the strength t0 embody it?
Our great source and strength is God, the one who made us and who put into us–into the base factory model of humans–God’s own image (with attributes like recognizing that love, compassion, kindness, etc., are good).
Otherwise, how will we know what character is and what the best way of life for us could be?
If we say it’s strictly up to us to decide, then we are on shaky ground. I have no way of demonstrating that my way is most helpful. Neither do you.
Ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner is hoping that someone will do something really bad–newsworthy bad, so that the scandal-loving press will leave him alone and let him attempt to rebuild his life. That’s my guess, anyway. No, we’re not going to bash Mr. Weiner. First, we’re not inclined to do that. Second, it’s been done ad nauseum.
Public and Private
But Mr. Weiner’s “situation” brings to mind a key element of character: Integrity.
He was one person in public and quite another in private. He espoused one set of values and principles when the cameras were rolling, but seemed to leave many of those values and principles at the office. I wonder how often I do that? How often do you do that?
A Different Person with Different People
How often do I portray one set of values publicly, but then leave them in the car before I go inside my home?
Do you do that? I know I have.
It’s natural to have some differences when in private. We’re more relaxed, more at home. We’re not “on.” We lounge in our grungy shorts and favorite T-shirt with the sleeves torn out at the elbows that your wife would love to get rid of but you’ve made it clear that she’s never to touch that beloved garment (sorry, a little stream of consciousness leak).
But we’re not talking about that kind of difference. We’re talking about differences in what we claim in public and who we are when nobody’s looking. Do we live out in private what we profess in public? Are we kind to our co-workers but dismissive and rude to our families? You get the idea.
Integrity isn’t about being perfect in some rules-based, moralistic sense. Attempting to achieve that will make us crazy, and will makes us really awful people to be around.
Integrity is about wholeness, about the elements of our lives fitting together with a sense of continuity. It’s about being the same essential person in public and in private.
This is what I want: wholeness, not perfection–consistency throughout. The temptation to be “on” when in public, to put on an image for the crowds is tremendous for many of us.
What I Need
I’m not strong enough to get this wholeness on my own. I need to be close to a power greater than my own to make it happen. I need grace, the grace of God. And, I need good friends–people who’ll love me and even, at times, put up with me.
What do you need to have wholeness, to have integrity?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this.
Thanks for reading,