It’s fun to listen to children play. Until it’s not. Imagination and creativity pique into a harmonious anthem of play until sabotaged by a misinterpreted action or obtuse sensitivity to others. Inevitably, we’re destined to hear the crescendoed “STOP!”, unequivocally followed by: “I’m gonna tell mom and dad.”
That’s the one card in the deck that always wins, doesn’t it? Do what I’ve asked, or risk a parental consequence.
Fear is a persuasive motivator for conformity. Either play right, or you’ll get in trouble.
My fourth grade class gathered in a big circle. It was Valentine’s Day, and we just completed the grade-school ritual of stuffing our cartoon-laden cards and candy into each other’s receptacles. We were enjoying our candy and cookies when a student said something I will never remember. And then, very uncharacteristic of me, I followed his comment with an out loud wise crack. Me. The kid who had trouble speaking up in class. The kid who looked at life seriously. The entire class laughed at my wise crack. Even the teacher.
Being the funny gave me approval. Make people laugh, and they’ll like me.
External influences are powerful. How often we learn the behaviors that gain acceptance and cause disapproval. Whomever holds the power gets to make the rules. That could be a person for which we desire acceptance, any sort of group (religious, political, social), or the powerbroker of currently accepted societal norms.
It’s the carrot and the stick. Incentives to behave a certain way, or consequences if we don’t behave a certain way. Our focus and energy are concerned only with what others see.
But if all we deal with is behaviors, we don’t touch the inner core of our souls. We don’t need to do the hard work of exploring the attitudes of our inner world.
Some men’s reaction to the #MeToo movement has highlighted this undivided focus on behavior. Sardonic questions flooded my social media feed for a few days. Can I hug her? Can I compliment her? Will I get arrested if I gently touch her arm during a friendly conversation? These are all necessary questions of appropriateness (without the sarcasm), but if they are our only questions, they can distract the conversation from going deeper. What are your views and how do you feel about women? Do you respect women? Do you honor women. Do you believe you should be kind to all women? Respect, honor and kindness are not behaviors. They are attitudes within the soul from which behaviors are born.
The tempting voice states that nothing needs to change within us as long as we put on the appropriate behaviors. Put on the right show for the right audience.
Until we confuse our audience.
A pastor of mine once shared a story of driving on a Los Angeles freeway. He made, what he felt, was a routine lane change. The car in his future lane disagreed. The other driver decided to display his disgust at feeling cut off. He sped up to pass my pastor and expressed his offended frustration by extending the middle finger. After noticing the middle finger, my pastor happened to get a glimpse of the driver’s face. It was one of our congregation members.
Maybe the conversation needs to go beyond behaviors. Are we courageous enough to dig in the dirt of our souls and explore what is really in the soil? Because the fruit is only as good as the soil.