What is wrong with you?

Published in Star News, a publication for Law Enforcement personnel.

How many times have we asked that question of someone? How many times have we asked ourselves; “Why did I behave that way?” When we begin to look into the specifics of how we handle these questions in our personal relationships, something very interesting happens. Those two questions come from two very different perspectives and once you realize where they are coming from you are more able to understand and correct unhealthy perceptions about yourself and others. Allow me to explain. It starts with the difference between human behavior and human nature.

When we see less than admirable traits in ourselves, we tend to attribute those to external causes and explain behavior away because of the influence of that cause. For example, “I blew my top because that guy would not listen to what I was trying to say!” In other words, I behaved badly because of an external influence acting upon me… He caused my reaction.

Funny thing is…

We rarely explain other people’s behavior in that same way. Call it an excuse, a reason, a justification, call it what you will, but we fail to extend that same reasoning to another’s behavior when they act contrary to our expectations of them toward us. We sometimes fail to see the external causes and wrongly attribute the reaction to their very nature. We superimpose their action on what we perceive to be the way that person truly is. This is most unfair.

Put simply: When I am mean to another I am really a nice person who’s behavior is mean because of something they did to me, but when someone is mean to me it is because they are a mean person.” Get it? Our actions are simply bad behavior, but their actions stem from their bad nature. We do it all the time. We do it to our spouse, our co-workers, our superiors and we do it on the street. “It’s their nature.” They are not behaving in an evil way; they are evil. They are not behaving aggressively; they are animals. The shift is subtle but destructive. What we explain away in our own lives through grace given to self, we should learn to extend to others in grace given to them.

We have all come to learn that when you give respect on the street you get respect on the street. The same should apply to our view of people’s nature. Much of life is cause, effect, and reaction. I would hate for others to view me at my worst and attribute what they witness to who I really, deeply am as a person.

Consequences

I was asked to write a 400 word article for the Star News with the purpose of addressing suicide among Law Enforcement personnel. This short article was meant to lead the reader (the officer) to think I am talking about criminals, and then flip-it to talk about the wake of destruction caused by officer suicide. Star News is a monthly magazine for Law Enforcement personnel.

Consequences

Why do they do it? Why do they act in ways that leave a wake of destruction behind them? How can they do that thing that they do, and not consider the consequences to everyone they love? Is it selfishness, or a way to alleviate some suffering or perceived injustice that the world has dealt them? Who knows? It differs for each.

The fact of the matter is that there are real consequences to their action. The children—abandoned because of one moment of selfishness—will never return to what they perceived as a normal life. The spouse, who once had a partner in life’s great adventure, now finds herself facing a lifetime of struggle and loneliness. What about the parents? How many parents are asking themselves, “What went wrong? We never thought it would be our child!”

It is time we realized that the choices we make affect everybody that we know. One bad choice in a desperate moment leads to a life of pain and suffering for others. We see it frequently—don’t we—this selfishness that destroys the lives of good people. We see it every time the handcuffs are used and we make the trip to lock-up. However, it is not society’s criminal element that I am writing this article about.

I recently lost a very dear person to suicide.

The truly heartbreaking part of the experience is not (I am sorry to say) the loss of the loved one. The heartbreak is what the individual left behind. The tragedy is found in the eyes of the older sister who was trembling as I hugged her in an attempt to console. The tragedy was in the heart of the mother who will forever think, “If I had done this (or that) differently…” Then there is the Father who doubts every day whether he was a good parent of not. And if there are children… The aftermath does not go away—it is part of the wake—and the ripples of the wake will be felt for a lifetime.

Unfair? Yes. Tragic? Yes. But in one moment of selfish relief many lovely people were sentenced to a life of damage, a life they did not choose, a life traumatically changed.

Remember hope… there is always hope!

A God of Justice – A God Who Honors

Here is another article I wrote for Star News, a monthly publication for Law Enforcement personnel.

Our men and women behind the badge face untold challenges. One of those challenges is the battle with resentment. They give their lives to their profession and unfortunately, sometimes, for their profession. They do what they have been sworn to do, and do it professionally. Unfortunately at times, though they did everything right; the book was solid and the evidence clean, the suspect walks. I always thought of this as unfortunate, but recently had an experience that brought that reality to heart. I am called to be a man of peace and love, but I am also a man who wrestles with resentment. I see that the justice system sometimes fails us and evil people walk. The Scriptures tell us about these people in the book of Isaiah.

(Isaiah 59:3-8) Your hands are the hands of murderers, and your fingers are filthy with sin. Your mouth is full of lies, and your lips are tainted with corruption. No one cares about being fair and honest. Their lawsuits are based on lies. They spend their time plotting evil deeds and then doing them. They spend their time and energy spinning evil plans that end up in deadly actions. They cheat and shortchange everyone. Nothing they do is productive; all their activity is filled with sin. Violence is their trademark. Their feet run to do evil, and they rush to commit murder. They think only about sinning. Wherever they go, misery and destruction follow them. They do not know what true peace is or what it means to be just and good. They continually do wrong, and those who follow them cannot experience a moment’s peace.

Yet still they walk. Here was my dilemma, my battle to overcome resentment.

One April, our Captain asked me to offer the opening prayer for Law Day (a banquet organized by state and local politicians). This Law Day banquet was to give honor to Law Enforcement Personnel, Court Services, Corrections, Judges, and Attorneys; both Prosecution and Defense.

Through a misunderstanding, I thought that I was opening a “Law Enforcement Appreciation Banquet.” I had my thoughts in order, a prayer that asked God’s protection and blessing upon those I respect, that put their lives on the line to keep us safe. Fifteen minutes before I spoke, I learned that it was not only “Law Enforcement,” but also the lawyers, judges, and defense attorneys. It forced me to love others across difficult boundaries. I had to change the way I think.

I realized that when we do what we are called to do, to the best of our abilities, God is honored. The end results are insignificant to our blessing. God’s is pleased when His children do what He expects them to do, to fight injustice. Whether or not someone else allows them to “walk” has no bearing on the pride of doing it right. Nor does it affect God’s perspective of a job well done!

Supreme Court Justice Horace Gray once informed a man who had appeared before him in a lower court, and had escaped conviction on a technicality, “I know that you are guilty and you know it, and I wish you to remember that one day you will stand before a better and wiser Judge, and that there you will be dealt with according to justice and not according to law.”

Sometimes they get away. Allow God to worry about that. Battle your resentment with the knowledge that you did it right, and that God is pleased.

(1 Peter 2:19) For God is pleased with you when, for the sake of your conscience, you patiently endure unfair treatment.

Anger Management

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverb 15:1

The trickiest of all human emotions, anger can be normal and healthy. Sometimes! It depends on its use. It can help us respond in threatening situations, fuel our motivation for achievement or dealing with injustice, or it can bankrupt us in a moment, leaving us empty and devastated.

So how do we manage such a tricky emotion? How do we use it for good and avoid the pitfalls?

In our realm as leaders, our environment demands an atmosphere of trust and collaboration. Anger management is crucial to longevity, productivity as well as for general health and happiness. It is highly appropriate that we learn to manage it well. Consider the following: A positive anger response helps us to react quickly and decisively to solve problems, achieve goals, and intensely focus on objectives. A negative anger response can ruin our career, damage relationships, harm our reputation and alienate us from our peers. During a negative anger response we must learn to recognize the signs that indicate a loss of control. Diffusing negative anger is never easy, but there are some concrete steps that help make it possible.

Duke University’s Redford Williams, MD, along with his wife Virginia, authored the best-selling book Anger Kills. They recommend creating a “Hostility Log” as we begin to responsibly handle our anger. The idea is that when we understand what triggers us and causes us to get angry, we are more capable of developing strategies to avoid the triggers.

Let’s look at some other positive steps.

Acknowledge That You Have a Problem – If you do have a problem, those around you see it clearly. Remember, that you will never be able to fix that which you refuse to see. A leader positively acknowledges his or her deficiencies so that they may be dealt with.

Use Your Support Network – Notice I said to use your support network and not find one. You have one already, those who love you are your best possible support. Furthermore, there are many professional avenues you can take, including your pastor or mentor. All of these services are eager to help, especially your family.

Interrupt the Anger Cycle – Pause, think, breath (deeply), tell yourself you can handle this situation, and stop the negative thoughts… Relax! This may seem ridiculous but it is not. Verbalizing your ability to handle the situation transfers what may otherwise be only a thought to a tangible, actionable affirmation.

Be Objective – Use empathy to put yourself in the shoes of the other party. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and that no one is perfect, including you. Also remember that those mistakes serve to teach us how to be better people.

Find Humor in the Situation – Laugh at yourself. Think about how ridiculously you were about to act. Be proud of your ability to avoid looking foolish. Not everything in life should be taken seriously. Think about that YouTube video, the guy in the office who goes ballistic and trashes the place. It made you laugh, but at the same time you thought to yourself; “How pathetic!”

Build Trust – When we trust another we do not assume they have malicious intent in their actions toward us. By being trustworthy we release others to trust us in like manner. Angry people tend to be cynical so work on trust. If you think they are all out to get you, you will not be equipped to deal with integrity toward them.

Listen – In angry confrontations, or when someone has annoyed us, we tend to speak and not listen. We prepare our verbal comeback to their offensive statement. This often leads to a failure to actually hear what is being said, and to jump to destructive conclusions. Then, we lash out based on our faulty conclusions and escalate the situation. A wise individual listens!

Be Assertive – Assertiveness is not aggression. Assertiveness is preemptive. An assertive person will clearly define their expectations and boundaries. This empowers others to know where they may or may not go with you in their conversation or actions. The defining of personal boundaries does wonders in the realm of interpersonal success.

Forgive – Forgiveness is an amazing way to release hostility. One who forgives others shortcomings is one who brings peace, not only to others, but also to self.

Even if your anger is not to the point of being a problem, these steps are vital practices in relieving stress and avoiding the path that leads to anger issues. Know them, understand them, and if you do not need them, perhaps you can help another who does.