Archive for category character
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.”
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.
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,
Here in Michigan there is a playful ad as part of the State Treasury Department current tax amnesty program that features a man saying “You probably won’t believe this, but my dog ate my W-2’s.” This classic excuse from our childhood sounds ludicrous and laughable from this man who is clearly behind in his taxes.
A Culture of Non-Responsibility
Part of the power of this ad, besides the humor, is that it touches on the culture of non-responsibility. Recently I watched an interview with TV personality and creator of West Coast Choppers, Jesse James, about his divorce from Sandra Bullock and the challenges that have followed. In the interview James departed from his earlier declaration, “There is only one person to blame for this whole situation, and that is me”, now saying, “God or whoever you believe in must have thought I was pretty strong to lump all of that on me.” His initial desire has been harder to live out and now someone other than himself is the source of the brokenness that stems from his choices.
The challenge for James and all of us is to take responsibility for our actions. There is such a great temptation to nuance our story so that we are the victim. Such revisions make allow us to feel better about our selves and make us much more sympathetic characters in the eyes of others.
Victimhood As Lifestyle
Yet I wonder if we, in the end, aren’t victimized by this type of nuance as we slowly create a perception further from reality. We can’t truly move past our faults and failings without honestly acknowledging them and taking responsibility for the messes that we make. Forgiveness and reconciliation, both from above as well as from others, begins when we honestly face our fears and failures. As tempting as it is to gloss over our painful chapters or concoct an alternate narrative, true hope, healing and character are found in taking responsibility for our actions.
What are your thoughts on “owning up”?
Thanks for reading,