I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.Romans 7:15
My wife recently reminded me of a conversation we had many years ago when she was composing an email to respond to some situation at work. A co-worker or manager had done something. I don’t even remember the details. Whatever it was, my wife had crafted a very articulate email detailing the situation, the wrongness of it, and her suggested corrective action. After she had finished the lengthy email, she brought it to me, asking that I proofread it. After reading it, I asked: “To what end?”
We’ve all been there. We can see it all so clearly. The flawed logic. The poor behavior. The inefficiency. The injustice. The incorrect answer. It is all so obvious to us. We’ll simply compile our email, letter, or post and hit send, thereby righting the litany of wrongs with the cool, precise, logic delivered from our moral high ground. All of the anger and frustration will be justified in that clarifying moment when all involved realize how absolutely right we are.
After 34 years of marriage, I’m not sure how many times we’ve revisited that conversation but it has been a beautiful reference point that has helped temper my reaction on numerous occasions. Even now, the instinctive need to be right remains. The fire for the proper application of justice, correction of the flaws in logic, body-checking the arrogance or bad behavior, or smoothing the rough edges in a world of inefficiencies remains. All of us feel it acutely.
To what end do you send that email with all of the correct answers? To what end do you share that post excoriating the person on the other side of whatever issue? To what end do you confront the co-worker who slighted you?
Born of Pride
Our reactions are so often born from frustration, anger, and pride. How dare you! Hyper-sensitivity demands the immediate defense of our honor. After all, I was right and you were wrong. Even when we allow ourselves to “cool down,” we seethe over the irritant now firmly embedded under our skin. Oh, I’ll show you. That, my friends, is pride. Many would argue that it is the worst of the seven deadly sins.
To what end do we react? Often, we tell ourselves that we need to “set the record straight.” We need to make sure the other knows he was wrong. What then? Does he suddenly realize the error of his ways and see it our way? Not very likely. Rarely does our reaction change another’s mind. Rarely does our logic touch another’s heart.
Well, we think, we may not change our opponents mind but others will know we’re right when we share our irrefutable logic with them. To what end do we work to convert others? To fuel our rightness. We want affirmation so we pull some others into our frustration and dissatisfaction. I once had a leader describe this to me as pulling people onto “the complaint train.” We must be right if others agree with us.
We are such reactive animals. I’ll show you. You’ll rue the day you crossed me. That vindictive thread emerges directly from our pride. I am right. So what? Maybe I am actually right and you are actually wrong. Where does that leave us?
Feeling and Opinion
So often, we stop there. I’ve been wronged so I react. I’m right so I need to let you know. Now, someone else knows. Do we convince them? Perhaps. More often than not, our reaction escalates the situation or pushes them further away. To what end? What happens when we play this out a few moves?
You may decide that the issue is significant enough. There could be legal implications. There could be safety implications. There could be financial implications. Ok, now we can begin to quantify the end result. Cool logic should suffice for quantifiable implications. But those aren’t really what we’re talking about here. Rarely does our pride get injured in the black and white issues.
No, it’s the personal slights that get to us. We get wrapped-up in the emotional disagreements. Unjust decisions. Inflammatory comments. Disrespectful behavior. Selfishness. Lying. Cheating. Wrong thinking. The nastiest disconnects are often in places that are devilishly tricky to pin down as they move within shades of truth. Feeling and opinion can move quite fluidly within those shades. Your truth and my truth become their own relativistic divide in the midst of emotion and perception.
A Few Moves Ahead
More often than not, our reaction is for the sake of reaction. “I’ll show you” we think as we fire off that email or that flaming post. The fact that we can react with impunity hidden behind the technology that enables us further emboldens. From cars to email to social media, we are insulated from the potential ramifications of a face-to-face, physical encounter with other human beings. In this place, “I’ll show you” because I can do it at low relative risk.
What happens if we take the emotion out of it? How do we react when our pride isn’t egging us on? How do we behave when we’re looking someone in the eye in that moment? Everything takes on a different hue. We pause to consider ramifications. We begin to think a few moves ahead. We assess the situation through a different lens. Perhaps I misinterpreted? Maybe I’m wrong? What am I missing? Or, even though I’m clearly right, what is the best course forward?
To what end do you send that email, honk that horn, or post that flaming criticism? What do you want to happen? Now and later. What do you believe will happen? Now and later. What difference will it make? Now and later. Run those questions through your mind the next time you feel that flood of emotion demanding a quick reaction.