The Optimistic Christian
Five Lessons Life Has Taught Me
There are times when it seems impossible to say anything fresh or worthwhile about the biggest news of the day: dogs on tops of cars, Secret Service agents on a toot, "wars on women," recall elections, shootings, thoughtless comments from famous people who ought to know better, civil wars abroad, the price of gasoline at the pump.
As I looked around this week, it seemed like a good time to summarize a few things I've learned along the way, from a life lived in these increasingly interesting times. These are lessons I find myself turning to more and more often these days. Perhaps readers will have their own lessons to add to the list. In no particular order, here are a few of mine.
1) Indignation is not a virtue. It can be a useful "alert system" for us, but merely being indignant about things is more choleric than it is virtuous. Yet we build a great deal of our public dialogue on indignation today, as if displaying it on cue or encouraging it as the basis for policy is a sign of character, commitment, or genuine concern.
Indignation isn't always well founded, and when it is, it requires judgment and humility—and often the counsel of many wise heads—to channel it properly. We find in our own lives that acting relentlessly on indignation wears out our families and friends, even when we are sometimes right. Indignation is a burning sentiment that requires the control of discipline and wisdom. In itself, it is not a sign of virtue; the virtue comes from what we do about what makes us indignant. Hard as it is to accept, the principle of Philippians 2:3 (all citations NIV)—"in humility, value others above yourselves"—applies even to the people who make us indignant.
2) All the other people are not the problem in your life. This lesson is hackneyed for a reason: it's not only true, it's one of the most important, liberating lessons any of us can learn. Most people spend at least some time as adolescents being certain that if only all those other people would change—if only the world would become different—they could finally be happy, finally be satisfied; finally be who they were meant to be.
But the world never does change to suit our preference, and the other people persist selfishly in their individual personalities, desires, and flaws. If we're honest with ourselves, we eventually acknowledge that we didn't know as much as we thought we did about what all the other people should be doing. Probably the greatest life passage for each of us is discovering that if we will go ahead and change, as we know perfectly well God is asking us to, everything does change for the better for us—even if the other people didn't change at all.
3) God made all of us different for a reason. I have found this to be an extremely important lesson. We're not all meant to be the same person. It's a positive good that other people have very different personalities. The world would not actually work very well if we were all alike. Other people's personalities may rub against us, but that's not necessarily a sign that anyone needs to change. We don't have to feel condemned if others sometimes react badly to our personalities. Neither should we be anxious to communicate how badly we have reacted to theirs.
For me, this is not just a lesson accepted on principle. As a Naval officer and leader, I found over the years that there is strength in diverse personalities. No one type of person can cover everything. Annoyingly pedantic people can often remind us of very important things, and excitable, precipitate people can get things started before it's too late, even if they need some reining in from time to time (and perhaps some cleaning up after as well).
J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air's Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.