The Golden Rule can tell you what matters to others

Is there a standard for how a Christ-follower is supposed to treat people? I mean, we’re supposed to love each other. That much is obvious. But there are different ways to demonstrate love, and it varies from person to person.

The Bible has so many practical solutions in its pages, and I’m so thankful. A cerebral answer to a question like that wouldn’t help much. And what’s interesting is that just about everybody knows this particular standard, whether they read (or even believe) the Bible at all.

bench-sea-sunny-man_1473x976Today’s verse is Matthew 7:12.

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

Everybody knows the Golden Rule. It’s one of those cultural things we talk about all the time, but even though we talk about it a lot, we don’t always keep to it. Why? Because it’s hard!

It’s really difficult to treat other people with the same regard that you have for yourself. I mean, it’s easy to give yourself another chance when you screw up. After all, you know your own heart. You know you didn’t mean to do it. But when someone else screws up? That’s unacceptable.

We’ve all been there.

But there’s another aspect to the Golden Rule that I hadn’t really considered. The Golden Rule can tell you what matters to other people. It’s not just how you’re supposed to act, but it’s also about how you should treat other people. Maybe those revelations sound identical, but they’re very different.

Let’s say that you are having a really bad day, and your friend brings you flowers to cheer you up. And you appreciate it. It’s thoughtful, but quite honestly, you don’t do flowers. You don’t really like them. And they make you sneeze. So while you are grateful for the thought, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to you.

But stop for a minute and think about what just happened. Your friend wanted to cheer you up, so he/she brought you flowers because flowers mean something to him/her. What does this have to do with the Golden Rule? Well, your friend would want someone to bring him/her flowers on  a bad day, so that’s why he/she did it for you. Now you know that. So tuck it away. Maybe you’d never give someone flowers ordinarily because you find them annoying, but your friend likes them.

People aren’t mind readers, you know, and many times I think we do things for other people based on what makes us happy.

Now, we shouldn’t only do kind things for other people because we want them to be kind to us. We should be kind because God says it’s what we should do. And, truthfully, it’s better if you just communicate with each other. But people don’t really communicate anymore. And even when we do, there’s still some kind of disconnect that prevents us from saying what we really mean. So you have to learn to listen to the things people don’t say.

Maybe what that person in your life did for you doesn’t resonate with your desires. Maybe it wasn’t anything close to what you would do for someone else or what you would expect someone to do for you. But the principle of the Golden Rule is that it’s not about you anyway.

So pay attention to how others treat you and what others do for you. They may be telling you without words how you can be a blessing to them. And there’s really nothing more awesome than being a blessing to someone else.

If you can’t be kind, just don’t be unkind

Being kind is hard enough when you like the people around you. When the people are mean or dramatic or harsh or difficult, being kind becomes almost impossible. But as Christ-followers, we are always to respond kindly, even in circumstances when we are standing up for ourselves or against something that is wrong.

Today’s verses are Ephesians 4:31-32.

1113096_42782006Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Kindness isn’t something you have to go out of your way to demonstrate. Kindness can be as simple as smiling at someone. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. But what about in those circumstances where you don’t want to be kind? What about the times when people take advantage of you because you’re kind?

Well, it’s true. If you’re kind, people will take advantage of you. You should expect it to a certain extent. But that doesn’t mean we are called to live life as doormats. There is a way to stand up for yourself and be kind at the same time. And what I’ve learned about kindness is sometimes it’s not going out of your way to be nice to people. Sometimes kindness is simply not doing or saying something cruel. Sometimes kindness is not participating in a conversation or not commenting at all. Sometimes kindness is acknowledging someone’s presence politely.

If you don’t know how to start being kind to someone, start by not being unkind.

See that’s where I come from. When someone is mean to me or when someone treats me unfairly, I want to treat them the same way. There’s that part of me that wishes the Golden Rule worked both ways, so that if someone treats me like dirt it gives me the right to treat them like dirt in return. But that’s not what it’s about. And that’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to live.

If someone is cruel to you or blames you unfairly or just treats you like garbage, don’t reciprocate. That will make it worse. Don’t give them ammunition. Don’t give them a reason to keep picking on you. Sure, if they want to pick on you, they’ll fabricate a reason, but you don’t have to give them one. If you’re giving them the bullets to put in their gun, everybody will think you deserve what you get. But if you don’t give them any reason to hate you, they’ll just be shooting blanks—and people notice things like that.

But you don’t have to buy them chocolate. You don’t have to wash their car. You don’t have to go out of your way to be kind to them. I mean, if you have the kind of personality where you can do that, do it! But to me, it’s more important to start with focusing on not being unkind.

Say hi to the guy who makes you mad when you pass him in the hallway. Acknowledge your coworker when she sends you rude emails. When that guy you work with throws you under the bus, gently respond with facts and figures if you have them. And if you don’t, be gracious. But whatever you do, don’t pin the blame on someone else.

None of that would be called “kindness” if you think about it. But what you’re doing when you choose not to be unkind is putting the people around you before yourself. You’re giving up your “right” to pay back blow for blow, and instead you’re thinking about the whole picture instead of just the place you have in it.

If you’re in a situation where you just can’t be kind, don’t stress yourself out about it. Don’t try to force yourself to play a role. If you can’t be kind, then just don’t be unkind. You might be surprised how your life, your perspective, and your relationships change for the better.

Loving others when you don’t feel like it

When was the last time you made someone’s day? I got to do it yesterday morning, but in a bit of an unconventional way.

I’m writing this morning’s blog post from the hotel dining room in Philadelphia, right next to a big picture window from where I can see towering skyscrapers and beautiful brick plazas. I’m directly across from a 53 story building, at the top of which is my training conference this morning.

I got into Philly last night, after having spent a night with some dear friends. I wasn’t 100% sure that the building across the street was the one I was supposed to be at, so I popped over and stuck my head inside. Only in this building, they have a stereotypical security guard behind a desk.

I walked inside, and he straightened up and scowled at me. So I just asked him if this was where I could find the conference I was attending. He told me that it was indeed the correct location. I thanked him and politely explained that I had gotten in from Kansas and wanted to make sure I wasn’t lost.

The guy broke out into the biggest grin and said: “Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore!” And then he burst into laughter. “I’ve always wanted to say that!”

(not my photo)

(not my photo)

Today’s verse is 1 Peter 4:8.

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

It can be difficult to show love at times, especially in circumstances where you’re stressed or unhappy, but love is what makes Christ-followers different from the world. Or at least, that’s what should make us different.

Regardless of our circumstances, we are supposed to love people. We’re supposed to be kind to people. We’re supposed to go out of our way to care for people, especially when we don’t feel like it. It’s that kind of love the world needs to see right now.

I don’t know that man at the security desk. He may be there this morning, and if he is I’ll be sure to say hi. But whether I saw him again or not, whether he smiled at me or not, whether he acknowledged that I went out of my way to be polite when I absolutely didn’t feel like it or not, I shouldn’t be impolite to him. I shouldn’t snub him or be rude to him.

Unfortunately, that’s how we behave more often than not. We treat others the way they treat us instead of the way we would prefer to be treated. But that’s not love. That’s selfishness.

Granted, you don’t always get the response I got. Most of the time, people just look at you like you’re nuts. But sometimes–sometimes you get to make somebody’s day. And there’s nothing like that.

So be on the lookout today for how you can cheer somebody up. Believe me, it’ll make your day.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Being nice isn’t enough

Sometimes I read Proverbs, and they don’t sound right. Like the writer took two completely unrelated sentences and joined them together with a comma and coordinating conjunction and expected people to get the point. But as a grammar fiend, it irks me because compound sentences are supposed to be composed of two closely related sentences. And many times verses out of Proverbs feel like they’ve been mashed together.

But something occurred to me this morning. God knows grammar rules. So if a verse out of Proverbs sounds mashed together and unrelated, I’m not reading it right. Maybe that sounds like common sense to you, but it was something of a revelation to me.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:21.

The wise are known for their understanding,
    and pleasant words are persuasive.

See what I mean by two sentences that don’t really fit? If I had been writing this sentence, it would sound something like this: “The wise are known for their understanding, and people ask their advice.” Or something like that. Because being known for understanding and persuading with pleasant words don’t sound related at all.

Or do they?

I was having a conversation with a friend last night in regards to someone she knows who is a very persuasive person … in a mean way. She’s apparently one of those types who can launch into a conversation with a particular type of assertive, engineered cruelty designed to get her exactly what she wants. And she’s good at it. She can browbeat anyone within an inch of their lives until they give in and give her what she’s asking for.

Talent? Maybe. Because I couldn’t do that. I make myself sick when I have to confront people at work about doing something for me that they’re supposed to do anyway. I can’t imagine calling someone up and screaming at them until they break.

But when I read this verse today, the part about pleasant words being persuasive caught my attention. Pleasant words are nice, sure, but persuasive? Most of the time when I need something and try to be pleasant about it, I don’t end up persuading anyone.

But here’s where the very related first sentence in that compound construction above comes into play.

Wisdom. Understanding.

Pleasant words by themselves aren’t enough. Pleasant words wielded by someone with understanding? Now that’s a dangerous combination.

Think about it.

If you have wisdom, if you can understand someone, you can communicate with them on every level. Body language. Vocal tone. Understanding means you “get people.” And if you get people, you know how to talk to them. You don’t have to scream. You don’t have to insult or browbeat or attack.

Now I’m not talking about manipulation. I’m talking about communicating. So many times in our world, we don’t communicate with each other. We form preconceived notions about other people so that when they come and ask us for something, we write them off or we dismiss them because we think we know what they want already. Maybe you do. But maybe you don’t.

In the corporate culture where I work, it’s essential to get along with people, but it’s also essential to get information from people. If people around me don’t do their jobs, if they don’t get me the information I need, I can’t do my work. I suspect that many of you who are reading this are in the same position. Well, how do you get what you need from other people who’ve already made up their minds about you?

Get to know them. Understand them. Find out what’s important to them, what matters to them, what drives them. And when you understand that, you can communicate with them on a different level. You can explain what you need, why you need it, why it matters to you, and why it should matter to them.

That’s not manipulation. That’s communication. That’s understanding the people you’re working with. That’s giving the people you work with a window into who you are. And when you can understand people on that level, you don’t have to resort to screaming and threats. You can be pleasant.

Wisdom and pleasant words are powerful tools. They are persuasive, yes, but implementing them at the same time will make a huge difference in your work environment. Because the wiser you become and the more pleasant you become, the more people will like you. And the more you’ll have a chance to help make a difference in their lives.

And that’s more important than getting your way any day. But if you use wisdom and pleasantness together, you might just get both.

Dandelion - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Retro Post: Reciprocity

I thought it might be fun to put up another retro post, since a lot of people enjoyed the last one I did:

Dandelion - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dandelion – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

January 19, 2011

Reciprocity

My brain was like mush last night. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it was work, which seems to be getting busier and crazier every day, or maybe it was the weather, since I seem to get clouds in my brain when there’s an abundance of them in the sky. In either case, I had planned to get a lot of writing done last night, but with my brain feeling foggy I knew it wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to watch a movie. … (Read More)

Reciprocity

My brain was like mush last night. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it was work, which seems to be getting busier and crazier every day, or maybe it was the weather, since I seem to get clouds in my brain when there’s an abundance of them in the sky. In either case, I had planned to get a lot of writing done last night, but with my brain feeling foggy I knew it wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to watch a movie. I wanted something that was fast paced but still full of plot detail to keep me thinking about the story; so I knew I only had one option — a Jack Ryan movie. It had been ages since I watched Clear and Present Danger, so that was the winner.

It’s a really great movie, if you haven’t seen it. Patriot Games, the prequel, is also excellent. So is The Hunt for Red October. And The Sum of All Fears is okay. Clear and Present Danger has a lot of explosions and a lot of action (which is my kind of movie), but the story is also really intense and the characters are great (which is my defnition of a spectacular film).

I laughed this morning when I read the verse of the day in Matthew 7:12.

12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

It’s the Golden Rule. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. I laughed because it made me think of Reciprocity, which is the code name for the covert operations the U.S. government runs in Columbia in Clear and Present Danger. In the movie, the government sent them down there to disrupt the drug trade; that’s what they said, but the true motivation for it was revenge. Well, if you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens. When the soldiers attack something, the drug lords reciprocate, which means the soliders have to reciprocate for their reciprocation. And it continues into a huge vicious cycle until everything blows up in the end and Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) has to save the day.

Think about that in real life, though? How much of life is the exact same way? How many fights could we avoid by simply allowing someone else to win? And, please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a pacifist by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t stand for something. Everyone has to stand for something, but we all should think about how we stand for it.

What goes around comes around. You reap what you sew.Yada yada yada. You’ve heard all the cliches, including the Golden Rule. But no matter how cliched they are, they’re true.

How many times would you have liked for your boss to be nice to you? How many times would you have liked for your friends to listen to you? How many times would you have liked for your coworkers to respect you? Well . . . he’s a thought. How do you treat them? Are you mean and subversive to your boss? Do you ever listen to your friends? Do you respect the people you work with? Isn’t it possible that some of the frustrations you feel in life are brought on by your own reaction to people and situations?

Granted, there are times when you can be as nice and thoughtful to people as humanly possible and they are still jerks to you. But is that any reason to be cruel back to them?

Honestly, what good does being mean to people do you? Yes, it might satisfy that dark part in your heart that wants to lash out at people and make them feel as hurt as you are. And it might make your friends laugh at your boldness. And it might make you look stronger to everyone around you, but are you really stronger for trying to hurt someone? Isn’t it more difficult to take the high road and be the person God made you to be? The only thing being mean does is make you mean.

I think it’s funny that Jesus was into summarizing. In a single sentence here he summarized most of the Old Testament. Elsewhere in the New Testament, he did it again summarizing the Ten Commandments. Basically He said to love God and love people. That’s the secret to a fulfilling life. That’s the kind of reciprocity that will get you something nice in return, because even if you love the people who refuse to love you back, you’ll be glad you did in the next life.

And the bonus is that you’ll just be a generally nicer person while you’re still alive in this life.

So, if you don’t want drug lords to blow you up, don’t blow them up first. And if you want IT to fix your computer, make them cookies (my favorite boss in the whole wide world taught me that). And if you want your friends to listen to what’s going on in your life, you start listening first. And if you want people to be nice to you, be nice to them even when they’re not nice to you. Trust me. You’ll feel a lot better than if you give in and scream back at them, even if they’re being complete buttheads.

You never know what you’ll get in return, but chances are if you started with kindness, that’ll be what you get back.