I’ve been coaching the sport of wrestling for over 12 years now. I’ve always enjoyed working with athletes, teaching them the sport, about life lessons, and helping them achieve their goals. It is truly satisfying work, but I noticed something disturbing in myself about 9 years ago – I found myself spending increasingly more time focusing on our best and most talented wrestlers, and less time focusing on less gifted ones. In fact, I found myself seeking ways to avoid those less gifted kids, even though the level of commitment and desire to get better was the same from both groups.
It is natural for us to spend time with those who seem more responsive to our coaching and leadership efforts. If we’re honest, we do so because we derive a sense of satisfaction, a measure of success and reward for ourselves. I don’t see this tendency to be the problem. What I do see as the problem is that if we dig a little deeper into the why, it raises this question:
What do you fundamentally think about people?
What I found for myself 9 years ago is that deep down, I simply thought less of my less talented wrestlers. They weren’t worth my time and energy because there was a lower probability that they would achieve what I had defined as success. As I dug deeper into my fundamental beliefs and attitudes about people, I discovered I viewed my talented wrestlers through a similar lens. They were worth my time because they were a commodity that would ensure my success and self-worth as a coach.
I recently listened to a podcast by a popular non-denominational pastor who began to talk about the lifestyle choices of the people near the church they were discussing. He described them as a “challenging context.” He and his partner could not comprehend why these people wouldn’t want to have families, why they seemed more interested in their dogs and drinking coffee, and “secular things.” In fact, they even went as far to suggest they felt threatened, that their “perfectly normal” life of having a wife and 4 kids was looked upon with scorn by these people. Yet clearly in their minds, that is the life that God desires for all of us! These people “need God” and it validated their attractional ministry to in the premise their lives were somehow “lacking.”
I also sat in a church-related meeting where one person, encouraging the rest of the group to reach out to families in the community, suggested that this was desirable because “each of those families….that’s $1,000 right there.” Enough said right there.
Now if you were one of the people these folks were referring to, and were a fly on the wall for those conversations, would you want to be part of their community of faith?
What you fundamentally think about people will affect how you interact with them. And those fundamental beliefs will show through to people, regardless how “nice,” “welcoming,” and “well-intentioned” you try to be.
Our tendency towards sameness when it comes to who we surround ourselves with blinds us to this fact. It deceives us into believing there is something wrong with the other, and creates an “us versus them” mentality. Even worse, we think “they” don’t notice. The truth is, people are smarter than you and I think. People are always watching and evaluating, and they are especially evaluating leaders. I know 9 years ago my wrestlers were watching, just like they continue to do so today. The same is true in my role as pastor and Navy chaplain. You don’t have to like every person, and you don’t have to treat each person the same. You do, however, have to hold a universal belief about the worth and value of human life. What that is for you, I’ll leave that up to you to decide for yourselves. I do know, however, your integrity and effectiveness as a leader depends on your answer.