All of us are striving to be people of power. What we really want with power is the ability to influence others. To affect the world and to use who we are to serve the people around us.
Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? The problem is that influence does not often look like we want it to nor result in the way we hope. Influence is not the same as control. And that is a lesson we all grapple with on a daily basis.
The other thing that makes influencing others elusive is that it is much more subtle than we imagine. We pursue positions of authority, fame and recognition, as well as the official backing of institutions and organizations, all in an attempt to make sure our influence will hit home.
As a person who makes a living attempting to influence others, I learned two things very quickly. First, I am influenced as much as I influence. It is a two-way street. Always. Whether I give it permission or not, the things I aim to influence influence me.
The second thing I learned is that people do not always respond to the thing I am assuming they respond to. I spent a lot of time trying to preach good sermons or host good events. There are some big conversations where I feel the pressure to influence well looming. But more often than not, the things that most affect others are things I am not even aware of.
There is no better example of all of this than the story of Oliver.
Oliver is a great example of both of my lessons in influencing others. It is a student who influenced me and it was such a silly and subtle thing.
Our school does an event called Random Theme Debate. Two students argue about whether a hot dog is a sandwich or other such nonsense. They dress in capes and wigs. It is altogether absurd.
Kylie and I were judging Random Theme a couple years ago. One of the responsibilities of a judge is to determine which debater gets to go first. Judges come up with all kinds of ridiculous ways to decide this. As our faithful readers know, Kylie and I have been struggling to have a baby for almost five years. So, we decided, let’s ask the students what boy name we should choose for our future kid. We had a couple girl names picked out but no boy name sounded right.
Now, this being the event it was, we were expecting some bizarre and absurd answers. The first debater said, “Oliver” and Kylie and I both looked at each other with wide eyes.
Influence and Oliver
Who knows if we will ever have a boy and, if we do, if we will name him Oliver. But it is tops on our list for boy names right now! All because a college student in a cape was trying to go first in her Random Theme debate round.
It is so crazy, if you think about it. All the games we play. All the power moves we attempt. The attempts to control. The fighting for position.
In the end, people are most affected by the genuine expressions of who we are. They remember little things, sometimes things that they don’t even have words for. Aura. Disposition. Something like that.
We are all influencing others in these powerfully subtle ways. But we take it for granted. We ignore it. We aim for something “bigger”, something more sure. And as we are aiming for bigger and better, we are missing the truth of influence: that it stems from who we are. It is the right performance at the right time. It is the ineffable value of community, of two people sharing truth with one another by the way they live.