October 6, 2019
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
HAVE THIS MIND: HELPING THINGS GO RIGHT
The third in a series of four.
A few years ago, the late Stephen Covey was giving a seminar
on the Oregon coast. During a break, he was approached by one of the participants. “I really don’t enjoy coming to these,” this man told him.
He explained that he was unable to appreciate the beauty of their setting and he was having a hard time hearing what Stephen Covey was saying. He said, “All I can do is sit and worry about the grilling I’m going to get from my wife tonight on the phone.”
He went on to explain that his wife did not deal well with his being away from home. She had to know every detail of what he did, who he was with, what they talked about. He felt like he was on the witness stand at some trial. Then he added something revealing. “I guess she knows all the questions to ask. It was at a seminar like this that I met her . . . when I was married to someone else.”
There was trust deficit in that marriage. For an obvious reason. But what could he do now to fix it? What could he say that would convince his wife she had no reason to worry? Stephen Covey said to him, “My friend, you can’t talk your way out of problems you behave yourself into” (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 185-6).
This is sermon three in our series based on the verse, “Have this mind, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). We’ve been looking at the inward mind-set that comes naturally to us. With the inward mind-set comes the unspoken assumption that “other people don’t matter quite like I matter.” And we’ve been looking at the outward mind-set we see in Jesus. “Other people do matter like I matter.” Christian conversion is a shifting of mind-set from the one to the other.
Many of our problems with each other have their roots in this. So how do we solve these problems? How do we make things better?
There is seldom a quick fix. We can’t talk our way out of problems we have behaved ourselves into. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. Today we’re going to get practical. And I’ll give you today’s takeaway right now as we’re getting started, then we’ll talk it over. Spend more time helping things go right than dealing with things that have gone wrong.
It’s a basic principle. It’s in the Bible. It’s part of life. We reap what we sow. So don’t expect a harvest unless you have first planted the seeds.
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever
you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption
from your flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal
life. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will
reap at harvest time, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:7-10).
This is a long range, not a quick fix view of life. It’s what we did
last spring that determines what we harvest this fall. When harvest time comes, the crop is either there or it isn’t. If it isn’t, it’s too late. There’s
no “miracle grow” that works overnight. You want to spend time at the beginning of the growing season helping things go right, not at harvest time dealing with things that have gone wrong.
Stephen Covey, in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says
the same thing with a different analogy. He says we all have an emotional bank account. It works just like our financial bank account. We make regular deposits. We build up a reserve. Then when we need to take money out, it is there. We can write a check and we don’t have to worry about it bouncing.
In the same way, we make emotional transactions all the time with the people in our lives. We make deposits and we make withdrawals. Examples of deposits include: courtesy, kindness, honesty, keeping commitments. In other words, Golden Rule living. Treating others as you would like to be treated.
Pretty soon you have a healthy account balance. Which is good because we don’t always follow the Golden Rule. Sometimes, we make withdrawals. Examples include: rudeness, disrespect, not listening, overreacting, ignoring you, betraying your trust, not keeping commitments. And here’s the way it works. If I have some good reserves socked away, I can get away with an occasional lapse. I say something I shouldn’t. I do something thoughtless. It’s not appreciated, but it’s also not the trigger to a huge confrontation. I get some grace from you. I’ve earned your trust.
But if I have already overdrawn my emotional bank account with you, it’s like I’m walking through a mine field. I’d better be careful. Because one careless step and we have a serious problem.
Here’s the point: When you have a serious problem in your relationship, dealing with what has gone wrong is no fun. It’s really hard to talk your way out of problems you have behaved yourself into. Far better to spend more time helping things go right than to deal with things that have gone wrong.
We’re going to be spending most of our time today with a pyramid. It’s referred to in The Anatomy of Peace as “the influence pyramid.” We’re going to be filling in five levels but first here is a visual representation of today’s takeaway. We spend way more time helping things go right than dealing with things after they have gone wrong.
This pyramid, by the way, triggered something in me that goes way back. Math was my favorite subject in high school and college. I thought
I might be a math teacher. But there’s not much math in ministry. The
only math I have used in the last four decades has been balancing my checkbook. This pyramid looked like a math problem to me. So I cleared out a few cobwebs and calculated that the area of the bottom shaded area is 9 times the area of the upper shaded area. So the math teacher in me wants to tell you to spend 9 times more time helping things go right than dealing with things that have gone wrong.
(As much as I love theology, I miss the certainty of mathematics!)
When we are dealing with things that have gone wrong, we are correcting. Just like a math teacher. You have the wrong answer, I have the right answer, so I correct your work.
That works OK at school, but if you are in a marriage where you are always being corrected, that’s going to get old in a hurry. In fact, that’s going to feel to you like a withdrawal from that emotional bank account each time it happens. That’s why unless you are dealing with small children, it’s good to keep your correcting of other people to a minimum.
Here’s where we begin:
This is the base of the pyramid. We make that shift we’ve been talking about all through this series from an inward to an outward mindset. This is a spiritual matter. You’re going to need God’s help with this one. This is the change that comes when you give your life over to Jesus. But even then, you will revert back now and then. At least I know I do. Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. Don’t brush this one off though. It’s the foundation of everything else. Other people matter like you matter.
You have a better chance correcting someone’s behavior once you have made this mind-set shift from inward to outward, but even then you will probably meet resistance. It is far better to teach and communicate.
Even with your small children, whose behavior needs correcting and it’s your job to do the correcting, teaching and communicating works wonders. When they ask “Why?”, you can always use the old tried and true: “Because I said so!” I used that one a lot. But what a difference it makes when you take advantage of opportunities for teaching moments! And besides, you won’t always be there to correct them. So you want them to know why and to learn there is good reason for them to do as you taught them to do even when you aren’t there.
And as adults, it’s a simple matter of respect. We don’t want to be bossed around. We want an explanation. We want communication. Don’t just tell me. Teach me. Help me understand. Give me reasons. And then maybe I will decide that you are being reasonable and not arbitrary.
I can learn from you, but you can also learn from me. It works both ways. So we not only teach and communicate. We also listen and learn.
We’ve seen that Jesus had a mind-set of humility. Listening and learning are acts of humility. It acknowledges that you have something of value to share with me that will make me a better person. My understanding is limited and you can help me fill in the gaps. I will teach and communicate more effectively with you if I allow you to teach me and communicate with me. You might even help me see that I am the one who needs to change, not just you.
One more level of this influence pyramid: Build the relationship.
This is where the emotional bank account comes in. This is the sowing of the seeds and then patiently waiting for those seeds to grow. I get to know you. You get to know me. We develop mutual respect. I know I can trust you. You know you can trust me. And most important in any relationship is not what we say. It’s not even what we do. It’s who we are. It’s our character.
If we have a strong, healthy relationship, I will influence you. You will influence me. And neither of us will have to worry for a moment about being manipulated.
This influence pyramid is all about helping things go right, not just dealing with things after they have gone wrong. It’s practical. It works. I’m going to close with an example of it working, but first here are three things to keep in mind:
First, we start at the bottom and work our way up. We start with the mind-set. If your mind-set is all wrapped up in yourself, none of this is going to work very well. Then comes the building of relationships. Part of building relationships is listening to each other and learning from each other. Once the trust has been built, you are in a position to teach and communicate. And occasionally to speak the truth in love as you correct the other person, or as you allow the other person to correct you.
Second, we spend most of our time and energy on the lower levels. Which is the opposite of our natural inclination. Here is the influence pyramid most of us try to make work.
And we wonder why it doesn’t work.
Third, when you get stuck on one level, go lower. So if you aren’t getting anywhere in trying to correct someone, try teaching and communicating. And if that isn’t working, instead of repeating what you just said in a louder voice, try listening and learning. If you’re still stuck, it may mean you haven’t invested the time in building a relationship. And if things are still not going well, work on the mind-set shift that is the foundation of all this.
I hope you have found this practical. I hope this will be something you will be able to put into practice. I’m going to close with the story of how a police officer put this into practice. Chip Huth is Captain of the Kansas City Police Department’s SWAT team. He had just learned about the Influence Pyramid. It wasn’t a sermon at church. It was a seminar conducted by a group called the Arbinger Institute.
The ideas were fresh in his mind when his SWAT team was told to serve a search warrant on a house occupied by gang members. There was strong evidence that they were involved in illegal drug activity.
They kicked in the door. That’s the way they do it when nobody answers the doorbell. There was no resistance. One gang member was isolated from the others. Chip Huth recognized him. He was very familiar to the Kansas City Police Department. Before he was taken into custody, there were some questions they wanted to ask him.
He was standing by a couch. Tactical protocol called for suspects to be seated when they were questioned. So Office Huth in a respectful voice said, “Sir, I need you to sit down on the couch, please.”
It was not a request. It was a command. But the suspect did not budge. He looked Office Huth right in the eye and said, “I’m not sitting down on that couch.” He was dead serious.
So of course, the thing to do would be to force him down on that couch. He would have been well within his rights to do so. But he had
just been to that training. He was aware that he was at the tip of the pyramid. He was correcting this man’s behavior, but it wasn’t working.
He remembered being taught that when you get stuck at one level, go lower. The level just below correcting is teaching and communicating. It was worth a try.
So he explained to the suspect why he needed to sit down. He said, “Sir, here’s the deal. We’re going to be coming in and out of this house with all kinds of equipment to search and photograph evidence. We’re going to be moving around a lot. If you’re standing up, you’re going to be in the way. Other people are going to want to stand up. It’s going to prolong our time here and it’s going to make everybody’s day longer. So I really need you to sit down.”
He was proud of himself for communicating so clearly. But the suspect looked right at him and said, “That’s good, but I’m not sitting down.”
Now he was angry. His instinct was to give the suspect a good
shove into that couch, but he fought that instinct. He had just been to
that training. So what was the next level lower on that pyramid? Listen
and learn. So he asked the question, “Sir, why won’t you sit down on that couch?” And he found out why.
The suspect said, “I’ll tell you. I was shot a few weeks ago. I’ve got seven pins in my knee. The doctor said if I bend this leg, the pins are going to pop out and I’m going to have to have two more surgeries. I’m not doing that for anybody.”
Now the officer understood. It made perfect sense that he wouldn’t sit down.
So the officer looked around and found a stool. He said, “Tell you what. If I move this stool over here, we can position your leg straight. You can sit down and have your leg on the stool. Would you sit down then?”
The suspect said, “Yeah. I’ll do that.” Everything went smoothly from that moment on.
So here are Officer Huth’s reflections:
Number one, I was excited because this worked. Something I learned in a training actually worked when operationalized. It’s pretty rare when that happens. Then I reflected on potential cost. Like what would have happened if I would have used the correction and just shoved this guy down. The pins are popping out of his knees. We’re going to have to call an ambulance. Now he’s getting loaded out of there on a stretcher. Everyone in the neighborhood is going to see that. He’s going to tell his version of the story when he gets out of the hospital, and it’s not going to sound anything like my version. We’re looking at the potential for lawsuits. We’re looking at the potential for community complaints. These things are almost certain to happen. And even if we win the lawsuit, the cost of litigating it is incredibly high. Man, it just struck me, with all these potential consequences, that they were avoided by this short and thoughtful conversation.
This stuff really works! And not because it’s some slick, trendy, new thing. It’s because it’s based on the Bible. Because it captures the mind of Jesus. Because other people matter like I matter, so we need to live accordingly.
Make those deposits. Early and often. Courtesy, kindness, honesty, treating the other person the way you would want to be treated. Plant those seeds. “Don’t grow weary in well-doing.” And then wait.
“God is not mocked.” God is faithful. Harvest is coming. “For whatever it is we sow, that will we also reap.”
You are faithful, God. You know best. We think we know more than we do. And so we have war and conflict and discord. May we live your way, the way of Jesus. Beginning with his mind-set of love. Then the relationship, close and deep, he invites each of us to enter. Part of that relationship is knowing that our prayers are heard. Jesus cares enough to listen. Jesus understands what we are going though because he lived our life. And moving up that pyramid, Jesus is our teacher so we can learn how we are meant to live. And finally correcting us, forgiving us, like a Good Shepherd, loving us right back into your fold. You are faithful. You’ve done it all for us. All that is left is for us to say yes to you. Yes, Lord, yes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.