Monday, August 29, 2011

Command Central

A hundred and one different messages come barreling down on us from all kinds of sources.  Sometimes it is really hard to know what is right or how to behave.  Especially around other people.  Especially if our whole lives we have been taught that pleasing other people is somehow more important than being happy - or (worse yet) that it is the way to be happy.  

The messages can come with a whole pile of guilt.  A classic message I hear frequently, one that seems to be passed off as true and admirable - which is why it is so insidious - is the idea that the whole purpose of our lives is to serve.  

The moment I start suggesting that it isn't - I start getting backlash.  But I truly believe that the servant word mixed with the should word is and always shall be one thing and one thing only: religion.  People are religious about a lot of things. It's somehow comforting to folks to think that what they do has a bearing on how other people feel about them - including God.  

The problem with that kind of thinking is that it's backward.  The locus of control is wrong. It gets the focus off what's really important... what often gets overlooked.

The "give, give, give" and "do, do, do" mentality tells us what we SHOULD be doing, and relies a great deal on hammering on already over-developed feelings of inadequacy to 'guilt' us into doing things that we OUGHT to be doing for others - or for God.  It's everywhere.  We see pictures on TV of starving children in some 3rd world or war-torn nation, combined with a voice-over that says that we 'have so much and they so little' in a plea for money, sponsorship, whatever - can we not see that this is a classic guilt-trip?  

The message of "you're not doing enough" is perpetuated from the time we are very little and DO something to please a parent.  That's when the wires get crossed.  We DO some THING and we are told that we're good PEOPLE.  ("Good girl!"  "Atta boy!")  And the line between who we ARE and what we DO gets blurred.  We don't DO something that the parent thinks we "should" and it's, "Look.  Why can't you BE more like Johnny?" (emphasis mine) and we start to define who we ARE by what we DO.  

With some folks the line between being and doing gets downright obliterated.  The favorite saying becomes, "Faith without works is dead..." as folks attempt to justify this whole mentality and make it somehow spiritual.  All that does is provide a convenient cover for the "doing equals being" myth.  After a while, we become so used to living live by a set of rules and being commanded by Guilt (feeling bad for doing something wrong or for not doing enough right) and its cruel partner Shame (feeling bad for existing) that we forget that there is a difference between who we are and what we do - or that the difference is important.... and the seeds of burnout start to germinate. 

It's putting the cart before the horse.  It's insane!  We keep doing it - with the same results!

And it's also completely unnecessary!  Desperate for approval, praise, attention, applause - we keep trying to get the cart to go somewhere and we get further and further behind. 

And more and more frustrated.

I referred earlier to the locus of control being wrong.  The "do-do-do" mentality is an external locus of control.  The motivation comes from outside: comparing ourselves with other people, feelings of inadequacy, of not ever being able to do enough,  crushing guilt - from years upon years of the wrong kind of praise and/or criticism.  (Examples: "Good boy! what a great job!" or "You're such a screw-up! Can't you do anything right?" again equating what a person does with who he or she is...) It results in the belief that those of us who are "doing" enough (and how much is enough?) have the right - some even believe it's the responsibility - to confront others about their inappropriate or irresponsible behavior : in other words, to be another person's conscience, to play the role of God in his or her life.  We command and control what another person does.  Or we think that by following those self-imposed or culture-imposed rules, that we are living life right.

It backfires.  It backfires EVERY TIME.  It's the whole "push, push-back" syndrome.  Something in us rebels against being told what to do; we were created that way.  We were never intended to live our lives in fear of punishment (or of the withdrawal of approval / love / blessing). It breeds a growing resentment, well-camouflaged but still there, finding expression in locating others who aren't "doing" as much and unleashing anger and blame on those people rather than facing our own internal void.  This is living life from the outside in.  

How much more efficient and less frustrating to have an INTERNAL locus of control.  This is "command central."  God - through relationship with Him and/or through the conscience - becomes the source of identity.  The horse gets turned completely around.  

That relationship of love and acceptance becomes the locus of control, the life source.  It rejuvenates.  It restores.  It builds up.  The motivation for any action is gratitude for being loved, for being cherished.  It is not based on fear of punishment or on a wild grasping for approval.  The result is love.  Serenity.  Joy.  Peace.

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