Archive for category personal responsibility
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.
How Perceived Obligations Get in the Way
We tend to get fussy when we think that someone owes us something and then doesn’t come through. We feel cheated, hardly-done-by, perhaps even hurt. Often, though, these kinds of “obligations” are internal; that is, they weren’t agreed to or even discussed with the other person. We just, well, created them ourselves.
A husband expects his wife to take on certain responsibilities. But she doesn’t. He becomes upset when the “thing,” whatever it is, isn’t done. The problem is, he hasn’t discussed it with her, hasn’t asked her what she thinks. Maybe the “thing” he expects isn’t something she wants to do, or maybe she simply doesn’t see it as something that must be done. Either way, he’s upset, annoyed. Tension builds between them.
What’s the source of his irritation? An internal deal or contract he created, all by himself. How often do we imagine that someone owes us something only to be upset or stressed out when they don’t come through?
The Source of a Lot of Trouble
The truth is, people usually don’t owe us anything (unless you have a contract that all parties involved understand and agree to). Parents don’t owe their children Disney World or a car (new or used) or a particular vacation or set of clothes . . . the list goes on. Parents can give their children those extras, but out of love and grace, not obligation.
The person at the grocery store doesn’t owe us a “cut-in” because we have 2 items and they have 20. They can let us jump ahead out of kindness, but they’re not obliged to do it. Adult children don’t owe their parents a phone call each week, but if the kids choose to call, it’s out of grace (who wants someone to talk to them strictly out of guilt or obligation, anyway).
A Caring and Free Life
We’re not talking about neglecting to love others or living a selfish life. But we are saying that one of the most difficult lessons in character formation is to realize that no one owes us anything.
When we get this, we increase our peace. We don’t get fussy with people or live with inner stress because someone “should have” done this or that for us. Instead, when the kids call or when someone does something nice for us, we realize that they didn’t have to do it–and we’re grateful. If they don’t do it, that’s OK too. They didn’t owes us to begin with.
A grateful heart is a heart at peace with God, itself, and others.
Can you think of a time when you became angry or upset because someone didn’t come through? Were they really obligated to do what you wanted, or was it something you created in your own mind?
What are your thoughts on obligations?
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,