The Seven Deadly Sins of Highly Effective People: Pride

June 29, 2006

The seventh deadly sin, sometimes referred to as the “father of all sins,” is pride. It is here, within this sin, that the highly effective person is most vulnerable at all.

Why? Because they are effective.

And we’re not just talking about commercial success here. If you’re good at anything that people respect and/or admire, you are a prime target for this one: making money, managing people, looking good on a movie or TV screen, writing books, throwing footballs. You name it.

People whose lives have met with commercial success are going to be told how good they are. Constantly. Its inevitable. Employers, clients, co-workers, employees, friends, family. The person who holds the golden goose which feeds the masses is seldom criticized.

I’m not in favor of false humility. If you’ve turned a company around, you can take credit for it. I don’t think the danger of pride comes when you acknowledge your strengths. I think it comes when you no longer see (or, at least, acknowledge) your weaknesses and limitations.

I’ve seen it first hand, and it can be ugly: someone who obviously has made a tremendous success out of a business venture suddenly thinks he is bullet-proof. Eventually, if someone doesn’t call them on it, the end result is – to be as frank as I can – the Enron effect. A sense of invulnerability and arrogance leads to a belief that the rules no longer apply. Things may work out for a while. But, eventually, all of life comes crashing down like a house of cards.

I could go on and on, but I don’t want this post to drag out too long. Here are a few other bullet-points, though:
– This can trigger cycles of addiction. You know you aren’t as good as people say. How can you live up to your over-inflated reputation? People no longer console you.
– A sense of loneliness follows: when you feel invulnerable, your need for others vanishes, and relationships fade.
– Search out all of scripture and I’ll bet you won’t find more than a handful of people who God uses that were used in their “peak” – almost always, it is the humble, weak, even discarded that become the instruments of God. Think about that. Success = pride = useless to God.
– Pride’s near universal response to criticism: “They’re jealous of my greatness!” Whenever you hear someone implying that someone else is jealous of them, watch out! Pride is usually lurking in the area.

So…having concluded this tour, my next post will talk about the bigger point I’m hoping everyone will see here: that success isn’t an ideal to be dreamed about and celebrated in best selling books and airline magazines – it is spiritual poison. To make our way in the world, we may well be forced to drink some of it, but we should not label this bottle with a slick, alluring tag, hoping everyone will appreciate how great it is. Instead, we should carefully write the words: “WARNING: CONSUME WITH CAUTION!” in large, black letters.

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N.T. Wright on Jesus’ “Appearance”

June 28, 2006

And when the one who was now in heaven finally appeared, revealing his royal presence, this was not to be thought of in terms of his making a long journey from a far country. It would be more like drawing back a previously unnoticed curtain to reveal what had been there all along….Our citizenship, Paul says, is in heaven, and from there we await the Saviour, the Lord, Jesus the King – which means, despite many misreadings, not that we will in the end go off to heaven, but that the one who is presently in heaven will come back and transform the earth, where we have lived as a colonial outpost of heaven waiting for that day.
– N.T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective

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The Seven Deadly Sins of Highly Effective People: Envy

June 27, 2006

The next stop on our quick tour of the seven deadly sins of highly effective people is envy.

In the second post on this topic, I wrote about how the religion of success has infiltrated the fabric of our society, to the point where entreprenureal wonderboys are practically worshpped gods in themselves – idolized, scrutinized, and celebritized in local, national, and even international circles. I won’t dwell on that subject anymore here.

But I will point out that even those who think they’ve “made it” are still vulnerable to this malady. There is always someone out there with more income, nicer vehicles, bigger homes, sexier spouses (or girl/boyfriends), and posher private jets. To think that you’ve made it to the top only to find that there are other, even greater gods to lord their superiority over you can be profoundly humiliating. One might think that he will have arrived when he gets that exclusive membership at the local country club, but the ultimate discovery will be that – even within that circle – more and more concentric circles are being drawn. Always there will be a person with things, people, or looks that you do not possess.

Whether you make five figures or eight, envy is a relentless taskmaster.

Up next: Pride

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June 26, 2006

A few weeks ago, I listened an interview of an author, who was talking about the way labor is being stripped of meaningfulness in industrial/corporate society. It was fascinating and disturbing all at the same time. His primary concern was that most processes for the delivery of goods and services are efficiency-sensitive instead of quality-sensitive. In other words, a product or service can be (and usually is) sub-par as long as it makes money. Bean counters prefer to put out a product that is “just enough” to sell it, rather than spending twice as much to put out a really good product that people won’t pay for. People, he concluded, feel like they are being forced to produce half-baked products, and they aren’t really proud of what they are doing.

This makes sense, and I do agree that there is a silent crisis of profound emptiness and dissatisfaction in work, but I think you also have to consider the loss of any sense of control or creativity over work. No longer is labor primarily about crafting and skill, making a personalized product that was passed to you by a Master craftsman and that is passed on to your own apprentice(s). Instead, it is about carefully following corporate guidelines to a “t.” The better you are at being totally unoriginal and rigidly steadfast to the company policy manual, the more likely you are to advance. Innovation, variance, and creativity – on the other hand – are corporate evils, to be hunted and put down without mercy.

The up side of this is that we get lots of affordable consumer products and services. The downside is that we get no sense of satisfaction out of our contribution to this type of economy.

Middle managers don’t escape this phenomenon. To the contrary, they enforce it. The primary function of most middle managers is to make sure the lowest-level laborers follow the book. Do you think the manager of a Super Walmart gets even a small say in product placement and inventory issues? I doubt it. Her job is to keep the blue-besmocked horde in line, coming to work when they are supposed to, stocking what they are supposed to, ringing up purchases as efficiently as possible, and safe from injuries that result in costly workers’ compensation claims.

High level management is also doing little other than feeding the corporate beast. Business decisions are made on the basis of exhaustively researched data gathered from marketing and purchasing departments, the laborors in which are probably equally dispassionate about the figures on their Excel worksheets. Nobody is asked to be creative, and – I’m guessing – proposals that run against the numbers are seldom heard, because they probably constitute professional suicide.

I think the same thing is happening in other sectors – even in the small business, academic and professional sectors, though in slightly different ways. But I’ll leave that one for another day.

In the meantime, what do you think?
– Even though work is much easier than it was, say 100 or 200 years ago, is there a case to be made that it is equally less satisfying?
– Am I right in saying that there is tremendous opportunity for Christians who are small business owners and managers to minister to those who work for them?
– And ultimately, what does the Church have to say to those who are trying to deal with the dehumanizing effects of McWork?

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A Funny Thing Happened…

June 22, 2006

A funny thing happened on the way to watching us get our butts kicked in the World Cup: I re-discovered how much I love the richness and diversity of the world.

It was no fun watching Carlos Reyna and teammates get pushed around, scored on, red-carded for minor infractions, etc., etc. for three straight games. Thats for sure. But, no matter how bad things got, I never got to a point where I hated the other guys. To the contrary, in a world where the U.S. has become the ten-thousand pound military and economic gorilla, it was kind-of a relief to watch Americans play a game with other peoples of the world on “even” terms.

Take the Czechs. The entire game, I couldn’t help but wonder: how much turmoil, in terms of economics and politics, have these guys seen in their lifetime? How much brutality and oppression has their coach witnessed? Times are surely better now than they were in the cold war, but even if they aren’t perfect – what a great thing it is for that country to stop everything and get behind their team as they faced off against (and defeated) the well-funded Americans.

The Italians? What zest. What flair! What egos! I can almost hear one of their players saying it now: “I am too PASSIONATE to looove JUST ONE WOMAN! I must love…MANY WOMEN! (And the WOMEN, they love ME, too!)”. Soccer – with its flash and heroic acrobatics – is the perfect sport for the men in that culture. And – truth be told – I kind of like that attitude on the pitch.

Finally, there was Ghana. Relative newcomers to the World Cup, I’m told. They seemed so young, innocent, and eager – underdogs that you can’t help but like. They were perfect sports, shaking hands, helping people up who had fallen on the pitch. Smiling and celebrating every goal – joyfully and seemingly without guile for their opponent. What was not to love about that team?

So – with the U.S. out of the picture – who has the best shot to win? My money is on a Brazilian repeat. Gotta love those guys, too.

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Why the NBA is Boring

June 21, 2006

After witnessing the humiliating collapse of the Mavericks in games 3-6 of the NBA Finals, I am (a) frustrated with the Mavs for losing and (b) angry at myself for wasting valuable time and TiVo space on 24 interminable quarters of NBA basketball.

The NBA is booooor-ing. Here’s why:

1. Nonsensical color commentary. Most of the problems that teams face in the NBA are obvious and equally unfixable. Your star player isn’t hitting jump shots tonight. Your center can’t hit free throws. One player has a height or speed advantage over another. I appreciate color commentary that points these things out. But it only takes so long to do that, and then there really isn’t much to be said. So, you end up with silly, know-it-all observations about things like “you can’t win if you keep missing shots.” Worse yet, the color guy ends up critiquing a strategy simply because it isn’t working. One moment he will cry for more shots at the permieter. The next moment, when it that approach is attempted and fails, he will criticize a team’s failure to “get inside.” I’m probably missing some of the depth in this analysis, but it sometimes feels like the color guy is talking because he has to say something, no matter how obvious or contradictory or ridiculous it sounds.

2. Officiating is ridiculously subjective. What constitutes a foul? Beats me. The decision to call or not call a foul seems almost random to me.

3. There is seemingly no way to build and maintain a lead. One would think this makes the game more “entertaining,” but once you realize that things will yo-yo back and forth for 48 minutes, it feels like watching the first 46 minutes is a waste of time.

4. Too many stops in play. The game never seems to have a “flow” to it. Play is constantly stopping for fouls, out-of-bounds plays, time-outs, and the like. Just when things seem interesting, play stops.

5. There are some very likable NBA players out there, but it is a virtual certainty that at least one or two arrogant pflegmwads are always going to be present on the floor, stomping, pouting, and whining their way from end-to-end. That is annoying.

6. Watching free-throws is boring.

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Field This on For Me?

June 17, 2006

Our three girls just finished a musical theater day camp during which they performed in a production that depicted the story of Noah’s Ark. The musical features a group of people who mock Noah and family mercilessly until the flood waters come, at which point their deaths are depicted in a rather light-hearted, benign fashion, suitable for a young cast and audience.

At dinner after the second night of camp, our highly inquisitive six year-old, Becca, posed the a question that went something like this: “I understand that these people didn’t do what God said. But if God told us to love our enemies, why did he kill all of those people in the flood?”

Anyone want to field that one for me?

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