Proverbs 18:17: One Side of the Story

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverbs 18:17 (ESV)

Cross-examination is a key element of our justice system. A lawyer can craft a compelling story, peppered with supporting evidence, that appears to reveal the hidden motive of the defendant and their role in perpetrating a crime such that the jury is ready to drag the accused to jail themselves. This certainty often fades when the defense attorney rises and tells an equally compelling but different story, disputes the prosecution’s use of the evidence and perhaps reminding the jury of evidence that casts doubt on the prosecution’s case, and presenting another interpretation of the defendant’s life that either justifies their action or disputes their involvement. The jury mentally puts down the torches and pitchforks and cautiously considers what the truth could be.

The American adversarial judicial system prevents the problem highlighted in the proverb. Our passions can be ignited by one side of the story leading to regrettable actions because we neglected important facts. What seems like an obvious course of action built on logic leads to serious and expensive tactical mistakes. It is easy, but lazy, to defer to a confident and knowledgeable person when we should react with skepticism and due diligence. The person may be correct but they should be proved correct.

Sales presentations

People make poor decisions in their personal finances and business by falling for well-designed sales presentations and advertisements. Many people have timeshares and other “investments” (Beanie Babies) that they cannot unload because they succumbed to the logic and appeal of an inspiring presentation, time pressure (“this deal ends today”), trusted a salesperson and organization they didn’t really know, and they didn’t read the agreement. The best salespeople and sales organizations are trained in psychology and use this knowledge to design the pitch. I’m not criticizing the approach but reminding you to be aware that the car salesperson and telemarketer has been trained with many crafted scripts to address our concerns, questions, and rejections. They have an answer for everything that will appeal to your pride, anxiety, and insecurity. I’ve been through sales training where you are taught to create and then solve FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

I am not anti-sales. On the contrary, sales is what drives the economy and starts commerce. Through sales we learn of products that we really need that we didn’t know existed, medications that can help us with serious issues, and solutions to problems we want solved. However, in most cases there are multiple solutions or products that can fulfill our need  and we do not need to “buy now.” Buying from the first pitch without considering what another vendor has to offer or listening to another expert who highlights potential issues with the initial offer is foolish. More information will help clarify your needs, evaluate what is really offered, and provide insight on alternative products and solutions that may be a better fit or help you negotiate a better deal.

Personal relationships

The wisdom of the proverb will also help us with conflict in the workplace and our private lives. A manager or friend will be approached by a person who is having problems with another person. They will weave a tale of unfair treatment and unkind words and explain situations that have caused this person distress. Being the good friend or manager you confront the other individual about their accidental or intentional injustice. You may be surprised and embarrassed when you find the person is offended and insulted by your accusations and tells a compelling story that counters the first person’s account, supplies important information the other person neglected to mention, and even has witnesses that supports their view of events. Far from solving a problem, you created a bigger problem that existed before and now you have a starring role in the drama.

Although we want to be a good leader or loyal friend, we must remember that one side of the story is always imperfect. It is usually foolish to get involved in another person’s disagreement though we can provide godly counsel to help them resolve the conflict. The other person may see the same situation differently. Our view is colored by many things: experience, worldview, age, gender, personality, and many more characteristics. We filter our view through these things and respond accordingly. If you must intervene because you are a manager, make sure you get lots of information, ask follow up questions, look for evidence or information that provides some clarity, then act in the way that seems appropriate to the situation. But don’t react to one side of the story.

Success myths

Many business titans and successful people in many fields have a success myth. It comes out in interviews, is the subject of articles and books, and the person may even cite the one or two things that made them a success. Author Ryan Holiday begins his book “Ego is the Enemy” by telling his own success story then promptly reveals the important information left out that also contributed to his success and things that made him successful in one area that led to failures in another. He concludes by warning readers of CEO biographies and business success books that these stories, based in reality, are still myth. Important elements are missing. For every billionaire founder who skipped college and followed their passion to create a powerful company there are hundreds or thousands who followed the same path to poverty. We hear about the success stories but failures do not make headlines.

Glean what wisdom you can from success stories but realized that there are important nuances and situational differences that also contributed to the outcome. Perhaps they developed a product that hit at the right time, hired key individuals that contributed more to the success that is recognized, and had more luck than they are willing to acknowledge. You will not be able to mimic their success by doing everything they say they did. Someone can point out how they wrongly assessed the reason for their success, succeeded despite what they did, or how what led them to success in the past could lead to failure for them, or you, in the future.

The world is very complex though we desperately want it to be simple and will reach for simple solutions or obvious answers. But to be personally and professionally successful we must give kind attention to what we hear, but turn an investigative and skeptical eye to see what we are missing and what more we need to know. The story may be good, but wait to hear the other side of the story.

I Don’t Know What I Want To Be When I Grow Up!

In a world of seemingly limitless opportunities, bright young people can be frustrated trying to narrow down what career to pursue. Most don’t have enough work experience to know the great variety of jobs available. Others have aspirations but don’t know how they can make a living pursuing their passion or interests. They search the Internet, talk with parents and guidance counselors, and perhaps talk with friends but cannot discern the path they should take to a fulfilling career.

I wrote an article previously with general advice for young people on choosing a career that is satisfactory and allows them to glorify God in that vocation. In it I provide advice on handling adult criticism or worry about non-traditional career paths (social media manager, artist, trades) and how to use the career to support godly service. However, they may feel like they are trapped in a room full of doors wondering which one to choose. If this is you, I hope the advice below provides some important considerations and ideas for selecting a door to open.

You will probably have several careers

In contrast to my parent’s generation who generally stayed with one company for most of their career, you will probably work for several companies throughout your career. On the job you will likely start in detail-oriented production work until you become an expert who manages, jobs, projects, and/or people. As your skills develop you may discover new ways to maximize your joy and increase your income by pivoting from your initial career path to something you find more challenging or fulfilling. This may happen within one company but will more likely be a couple of moves within one company and moves within other companies as well. You may even be freelancing, that is, doing several projects or jobs (possibly quite diverse) for multiple companies while working for yourself.

Many pursue a course of work for a decade or two then change to something quite different that uses their knowledge and experience in different ways. The marketer becomes an inventor. The accountant becomes a consultant helping other businesses with financial decisions instead of detail money tracking. The successful businessman becomes a preacher. The stay-at-home mom becomes a nurse or teacher when the kids leave home. What you choose today may suit you for a period of your life until you choose something else to pursue.

Start with the tasks not with the title

Much of the frustration I had, and shared by some of my children, is not knowing what job “title” to pursue. We are accustomed to a person with a job title doing a particular job and our challenge is to uncover the one that is suited for us. I want to suggest a better path that will produce less anxiety: focus on what you want to do instead of what the job is called.

Choice Of Career OrientationThink about what you want to do in a job, not its title, who hires for that work, or will it pay enough to support you. Think about what kind of tasks you want to do every day (understanding that every job has some tasks that are unpleasant but necessary) or accomplishments you want to achieve. List those tasks and/or accomplishments and think about what skills you will need to do that work. You can search the Internet for the tasks or objectives (i.e., writing, computer programming, welding, building houses, helping people recover from illness…) to determine what skills are needed and perhaps read about individuals who are successful in this work. I would suggest being broad in your thinking and have similar overlapping options of the things you want to do. For example, if you are interested in gardening, consider skills in landscaping, food cultivating, and hydroponics as they are distinct but related.

Next, search to see how you can develop those skills today. There are many things you can study online, watch YouTube videos, read books, or learn how to use specific tools, whether the tool is a complex machine or computer software. You can also discover what trade schools, colleges, or apprenticeship programs teach those skills. An important boost to your career is finding hobbies that use the skills for personal enjoyment. Use this knowledge to determine how you can start learning the skills now, even if it just learning the fundamental principles until you can go to a college or trade school. Think of ways you can use the skills now as a volunteer (help in a hospital or nursing home) or experiment on personal projects  (i.e., building web sites, apps, animations, furniture, rebuilding an engine…) to gain practical experience you can demonstrate to employers. Following this path, some jobs and employers may find you!

As your knowledge grows and your skills improve the career options and  perhaps people or companies that will help you pursue your passion will start to appear. In fact, I don’t think some job titles or career paths will become evident until after you have started the journey following your interests and have accumulated knowledge and skills. So explore what interests you, what brings you joy or excites you, the things you can get lost in and truly enjoy doing, or the things you have enjoyed doing since you were a kid. Chances are, if you take a broad interest approach as described above, you will eventually discover what you cannot see by anxious seeking.

 

 

I Thought You Were A Christian

Those words stung hard as they slammed me deep in my chest. The look of disappointment in her eyes and the sword of truth from her tongue hit its mark. “I thought you were a Christian.” I thought I was though it was obvious I didn’t act like one. Remember, saying “God knows my heart” to a concern does not address the fruit in your life that led someone to express that concern. Perhaps if you knew your heart as God knew your heart you wouldn’t be doing some of the things that cause godly friends to be concerned.

Those words stung hard as they slammed me deep in my chest. The look of disappointment in her eyes and the sword of truth from her tongue hit its mark. “I thought you were a Christian.” I thought I was though it was obvious I didn’t act like one.

This scene took place after a trip home from church to the college I attended. I usually had students ride with me to the church I attended about 20 minutes away. This Sunday morning there were a few friends and this girl who I didn’t know well but needed a ride. During this time Purple Rain by Prince was popular and I had both the soundtrack and a loud stereo system. This was probably the tamest of Prince’s work but that is not a high standard. As we were driving home we were blasting the tape (yes kids, a cassette) and sheSad Man Silhouette Worried On The Beach was obviously not enjoying it. My friends were enjoying it, singing loudly and I recall her voicing some displeasure and requesting a music change. Being an arrogant twit at times (mostly to cover my anxiety and low self-esteem) and in a somewhat dark place emotionally, I turned it louder and made some smart remarks. A particularly rude song came on and I didn’t change it and was more of a jerk.

The short trip was over and we made it to campus. We got out of the car, she came around, cocked her head as if asking a question and in a tone that was neither hurt or angry, but matter-of-fact said, “I thought you were a Christian.” I don’t remember if I mumbled an apology then but I remember feeling the impact of the much needed rebuke.

How I didn’t react

I could have bowed up and said, “Are you perfect?” I could have cited anything I knew about her (I didn’t know her well) that might indicate that at sometime she didn’t make a perfect choice. Then I could have said that we are all broken and that none of us are going to live perfect and the grace of God would cover our sins. However, whether she was perfect or not didn’t matter to my sin under discussion and we shouldn’t continue in sin that grace might abound.

I could have taken her to task for judging me. “Judge not…” I could quote and certainly show her the flaw in trying to tell me how to live my life. Yet I would have to hope that she wouldn’t quote the rest of the passage or other passages that encourage Christians to make righteous judgment and to make attempts to rescue our fellow Christians who are wandering away from God, which requires judgment based on the fruits of their lives we can see that sprout from the heart that only God sees. I was a jerk and she was being a loving fellow Christian asking me to consider how my actions contradicted my claim.

I didn’t ignore her.

How I did react

I don’t remember who it was but I remember what she said even now about 30 years later. I thought about my actions and her words and knew she was right. I don’t remember if I apologized to her then but I believe I apologized to her later (or both times). I remember feeling sorrowful for my sinful behavior, conceit, and not being considerate to her. I resolved to make better choices and ultimately made different friends that were more encouraging of what was right.

I never forgot the words. Maybe she knows who she is and remembers the event and the conversation and might read these words. If so, she can reach out or remain anonymous but she can know that I never forgot her loving rebuke and I think about it when I am tempted to act in a way that does not represent Christ or glorify the Father. For this I am grateful.

How will you react?

How will you react when someone sends you a text, message, email, calls you, or confronts you in person about something they think you are doing wrong?

  • Are you going to turn on them for trying to turn you back to the right way?
  • If you think you are not in the wrong, are you going to calmly discuss this with them with an open heart and open Bible to determine whether you are in the wrong or not?
  • Will you be sympathetic if they didn’t have all of the information or perhaps jumped to conclusions to give them the whole story (perhaps helping them to have better judgment) but thanking them for having the courage to confront you about it?
  • Are you going a berate them and flame them for daring to say a negative thing about you (note: this is a good way to drive away anyone who can help you be a better person, even if their concern is wrong)?

Remember, saying “God knows my heart” to a concern does not address the fruit in your life that led someone to express that concern. Perhaps if you knew your heart as God knew your heart you wouldn’t be doing some of the things that cause godly friends to be concerned. Your friends could be wrong, but you could be wrong.

I’m thankful I listened to her and that I had someone who cared for my soul more than they cared for my feelings.

Proverbs 22:29: You Do Your Job BUT Do You Make a Difference?

Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank. Proverbs 22:29 (NIV)

The modern workplace is blessed with unambitious reliable individuals who are content to provide solid output and dependable service. I honor people who do good work to receive fair compensation and good benefits. Work is a part of their life but not a life calling. Their income and benefits support personal ambition and passions. Managers should recognize such individuals and provide them sufficient challenge and fair compensation without pressuring or chiding them for a lack of professional drive. Take care of these rocks in your organization because they can be a good foundation of a stable business if you don’t let them stagnate.

The Curse of the “But I Did My Job!” Employee

Occasionally you will find the employees who, as they tell it, keep their heads down, do their jobs, and provide generally consistent output and predictable results. Yet these same employees are perplexed when overlooked for promotions or receive nominal pay increases. They protest the apparent injustice with “But I did my job!” They fail to see that the reward for “just doing your job” is simply a paycheck.

office workTo advance and excel in the workplace one must go beyond “doing their job.” All workers, especially knowledge workers, must be engaged with their job and its impact on the organization. Consider how you would answer the following questions:

  • In what specific ways do you bring value to your company, customers, and work group?
  • Are you content with knowing the minimum processes of your job and work tools (i.e., software) or do you become a power user of your work tools and an expert in your field?
  • Do you whine about inefficiencies or do you meet with managers to explain inefficiencies, make suggestions for improvement, and demonstrate the value of changes on productivity and profitability?
  • Are you involved with professional organizations related to your job or industry and read trade publications?
  • Do you work with your team, managers, and other organizations within the company or do you prefer to fight territorial battles and complain about how everyone makes your job more difficult?

I have heard the complaints and excuses:

  • “The company will not pay for me to join professional organizations.”
  • “I’m not paid to read books, blogs, or magazines outside of work hours that will expand my knowledge of my job, industry, and company.”
  • “The company doesn’t pay enough to buy my loyalty or engagement.”
  • “The company will not pay for me to become a power user of Microsoft Office or other tools.”

If you keep yourself warm with excuses and whining, don’t be surprised when you managers and co-workers are deaf to your complaining. Your professional development is your responsibility. Only you can increase your value in the labor marketplace. The time you invest developing productivity and general business skills, industry knowledge, and job skills will likely be repaid by advancement within the company, job offers from companies that see your value, or becoming your own boss.

Don’t just do your job, make a positive impact in your organization, industry, and professional life.

Proverbs 27:21: Will Praise Destroy You?

A challenging task for one’s character is receiving praise. Some will deflect it because they have such low self-esteem and discount what is said. On the other extreme, some let it inflate their pride. Do we chase it? How do we handle it?

“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise.” Proverbs 27:21 (ESV)

“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, And a man is valued by what others say of him.” Proverbs 27:21 (NKJV)

The two translations of this passage provide insight about the virtue and danger of praise. Other proverbs encourage humility and discourage boasting about oneself. As promoters, we are biased when marketing ourselves even cushioning acknowledgement of our flaws with reasons, excuses, and reminders of our virtue. The wisdom of the collection of proverbs on humility, pride, and praise encourage us to not seek praise and, if it is to be voiced, let it come from another.

The introductory couplet compares man’s praise to the refining process for silver and gold. This is  a common theme used for faith in 1 Peter 1, the word of God in Psalm 12, and numerous other places. The intensity of heat melts gold and sliver releasing impurities to be removed. Likewise, through the heat of moral and physical challenges, a person’s character is either strengthened or weaknesses exposed. A “trial by fire” purifies the one who allows for improvement and sheds what is weak and wicked.

Praise for enduring tests

As the NKJV observes,  a man who receives genuine praise, not flattery, from others is one who has distinguished himself by his character, character developed through trial. Most men and women who are considered praiseworthy have overcome obstacles, endured trials, demonstrated self-discipline, and have distinguished themselves through achievement and excellence. One does not have to accomplish something great, as the world counts greatness. A person may be praised as a good parent, coach, or friend for what they have accomplished despite the challenges of life.

The test of enduring praise

The ESV and NIV provide another view of this passage. How a person reacts to receiving praise is also a test. A common quote in the business world is

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”*

An equally challenging task for one’s character is receiving praise. Some will deflect it because they have such low self-esteem and discount what is said. On the other extreme, some let it inflate their pride. It is best to accept praise graciously, thanking the person for their kind words, and move on with life.

A person can become so addicted to praise that they start to make decisions and act in a way that encourages praise. They need it like air and food. They wrestle with self-doubt and insecurity when they do not receive it and can’t enjoy when they do receive it because its pleasure is fleeting. The futility of chasing followers, likes, and views on social media arises from this warped sense of one’s worth by the clicks of strangers and friends. Some will neglect those who do care and are with them physically by staring into their phone, skipping across social media sites, feeding the need to feel significant. I encourage you to read my article, Could You Live Without Internet Celebrity for more insight into this danger we face.

One of my internal reminders is that I’m not as bad as my critics say nor am I as good as my fans say (I don’t know where I borrowed this from, perhaps Abraham Lincoln or Einstein). I enjoy praise as much as anyone but I do not let that define me nor is it the way I evaluate myself. As a Christian, my value lies in the relationship with God, not how men judge me. I must be careful, as I have written in this article, not to do my Christian service for the praise and honor of others. Some compromise their principles so they will not receive criticism. Others let praise for their godliness rest on them instead of directing the glory to God. Let us have the attitude of Paul in Philippians 3:8, who said “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” (ESV).

Can you handle the praise?

*Note: Most sources attribute this quote to Abraham Lincoln. I have not had a chance to verify this and am skeptical of attributing it since it appears most of the Internet quotes are attributed to Einstein or Abraham Lincoln.