The Confidence Conundrum

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“Be confident!”  

Two words and some of the most unhelpful advice ever given.

Telling someone to be confident is like telling a depressed person to be happy or a short person to be tall.  A person who lacks in confidence does not know how to be confident or else they would already be confident.  Building confidence takes more effort than making a bold pronouncement upon someone.

People do not simply choose to be shy, unsure, uncertain, doubtful, confused, hesitant, timid, anxious or fearful.  No, those things are a product of life experiences and emotions that are all very real.  A confident person making a perfunctory statement does nothing to change the reality of a person who lacks confidence.

That said, confidence is desirable and something to be shared.  

Unfortunately, people who are confident often do not have reason to be introspective about it.  When you feel good about life there is not much need to know why or question it, there is only reason to be what you already are and enjoy the benefits.

Confidence is both a natural disposition and also something gained through positive experience.  Parents instill confidence in children through example or by helping them to overcome their fears and learn from failures rather than dwell in them.  Confident and successful parents seem to produce confident and successful children.

Confidence goes hand in hand with success, it frees a person to take the plunge rather than waste time in needless deliberation and makes them more attractive.  But, there is a sort of causality dilemma, in that confidence often leads to success while success builds confidence and without one the other becomes more difficult to maintain.

When confidence doesn’t produce success, it leads an intelligent person to doubt.  And with doubt comes less desire to risk effort and that results in even less opportunity for success, which often leads to even less success and even less confidence.  Pretty soon things can spiral downward into the pit of despair without a clear way out.

So, how do we help someone who lacks confidence gain it?

If you want a person to be confident then you must give them reason to be confident and good enough reason to overcome whatever reasons they have to lack confidence. To be helpful one must directly address root causes and not dismiss the realities that created the condition as silly or irrelevant.

What people need is T.IM.E.

Help must be practical.  Encouraging words don’t cut it.  Words, no matter how confident you are in saying them, are only words and do nothing to counteract the real life experience or emotional baggage of someone who has only known failure.  What is helpful, perhaps the only thing that does help in some cases, is meaningful long-term investment in the other person.

Loss of confidence happens over a lifetime, it comes as a result of traumatic experience or neglectful treatment, thus expecting a person to “snap out of it” because you say so is delusional at best and an excuse to be indifferent at worse.  There is more to be done than simple encouragement and that means an investment of time.

Here are three simple steps…

1) Take time to listen.  Confidence goes hand in hand with success, but success can lead to arrogance and unwillingness to hear first.  Many people want to “fix” another person without taking time to actually listen and assess the need.  This could mean many months or only a moment depending on the need.  It takes relating to the other person at their own level, earning their trust, without being in a rush or speaking in judgment of their situation.  Half the problem could be the lack of someone who will actually hear them out and care.  So listen empathically and try to identify with the other person emotionally.  Weep with them, laugh with them, eat with them and imagine with them.

2) IMagine a solution.  Without confidence, our ability to envision a better future dwindles and dies.  A successful person can easily take their ability to see a bright future for granted and yet a person who has continually failed does not share their rosy vision.  The first step towards any solution, therefore, is to think about it, to break the problem down into steps and help the other person mentally develop their path towards success.  After that comes execution of the plan.

3) Empower them.  This is where the rubber meets the road and is probably what is most lacking in our age of dog-eat-dog individualism.  Sure, there are many willing to spew their unhelpful advice and unasked-for judgments, but there are very few willing to partner in the success of another person and by this I mean make a substantive investment.  No, this does not mean a handout done in pity or religious obligation either, but an investment that physically and materially shows our confidence in the person who needs it.  Your willingness to partner together with them in a solution will, by itself, help build their confidence.

Anyhow, some final notes…

This is not a method or formula.  Each person and every situation is different.  Sometimes all that is needed is encouragement (more than saying “be confident”) which could mean something as little as a phone call.  While other times a lifelong commitment may be required.  It will likely require creativity, facilitating the right connections, and making recommendations.  

The goal is to get the person what they need to get on their feet and going in the right direction.  It also means getting out of the way and not being controlling or expecting anything in return besides enjoying their success with them.

Nobody is self-made.  If you are confident and successful, there are reasons why that go beyond your own abilities.  We did not pick our own home, communities, height, intelligence, personalities or luck.  We cannot take full credit for anything we have accomplished in our life.  This is reason to be humble and helpful.

If you are confident then share what you have been given with those who have little or less than you do.  Show your hope in their future with truth of action and not only your confidently spoken (but empty) words, be their heart…


Love: Feeling or Choice?

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This blog is about ideas and the idea that ideas matter.  I believe the ideas people have can dramatically influence the direction of their lives.  Our choices, based in our ideas, could actually help shape reality in a ways not previously understood.

The view that seems popular today makes people simply products of the universe.  We emphasize the role of genetics and the influence of environmental factors in shaping what a person is, which is an idea that is certainly not without merit.  We bear a close resemblance to our parents for a reason and had no choice in determining that.  There’s also a good explanation of why I am writing this in English rather than Chinese. 

Obviously we have a given nature and are influenced by the nurture we received, which could lead to a ‘it is what it is’ fatalistic view that we have no choice or free will and ability to determine the future.  But could there be more than that?  Is it possible that the universe is only an influence and not a dictator of our consciousness?  Could it be that our own consciousness acts as a co-creator of the future universe?

Advances in physics have opened a whole new realm of possibilities.  The wave-particle duality of quantum mechanics is a paradox that suggests there is a bigger picture of the universe and one that could put our own consciousness in a far more important role than previously understood.  If our observation actually shapes reality at a quantum level (collapsing the wave function) then the future may not actually be determined outside of our own mind and will as is a common assumption.

If the future is not a destiny and is in fact something we co-create, then that could change many things including our ideas on love, which leads to the question…

Is love an existent feeling or a willful choice?

Both religious and secular people have seemed to have embraced a fatalistic view of love.  We could be scientific and point to natural explanations like pheromones, cultural expectations, chance opportunity, etc.  It is basically to conclude that love is something pressed out of a myriad of factors that all combine at the right time—which is a view that makes love seem sort of like sausage.  The religious, on the other hand, may turn to a meant-to-be (or God-did-it) rational to explain love and downplay choice.

Our culture, religious or otherwise, tends to emphasize the feelings of attraction above all else.  Love is something we are told we should ‘fall’ into and that there is a ‘right’ person out there for everyone. The idea is that attraction produces a feeling that produces a choice that produces commitment and ends with happily ever after. 

Unfortunately, I believe this is a view of love that has produced a great deal of disappointment and disillusionment in our day. It doesn’t work for many people. For some the problem is that they never find someone who produces that feeling of attraction enough to make them commit and they remain single or go from one relationship to the next in search of it.  The problem for others is that they marry based in superficial feelings, eventually those feelings fade away and they want out of the commitment. 

In both cases (above) the idea of love centers around feelings of attraction and presents love as a product of circumstances outside of our own control.

But what if there is an alternative view? What if we flip the order of things and put commitment first? Or, rather than love being a fate produced by an initial attraction that eventually ends in commitment and happily ever after, could love be a commitment to love that lead to a continual choice that produces a deepening relationship that produces a feeling of love and marital bliss? 

It is my view that love is less of an ‘it is what it is’ fate and more an ‘it is what we make it’ choice.  I believe the idea of love as a choice would produce healthier more sustainable relationships than the current popular view.  We believe we would see a reversal in trends towards non-commitment if we stopped waiting for the ‘right’ feeling to come and started to be more actively loving to others even when the feelings do not exist.

What is the (proper) Christian view of love?

In the American church there is a heavy emphasis on experience and emotion in worship.  We want music, we want excitement and entertainment, because the more feeling we have in the moment the more we love God, right? 

Wrong.

Christian faith is not supposed to be primarily about feelings or ‘spiritual’ experience.  Christian faith should be about obedience to the Spirit of love and that is the true evidence of faith according to Jesus:

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34-35)

Many Christians have confused positive emotions for spiritual depth.  A person who proclaims the loudest how great God is and puts on the biggest public display of praise is not necessarily the one who loves God the most.  The Gospel presents a different view of love that doesn’t resonate as well with our feelings based culture.  Jesus says, “if you love me, keep my commandments,” (John 14:15) and equates love with obedience.  

To obey Jesus means to love others as we wish to be loved (Luke 6:31) and to love perfectly like God does:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:43-48)

If Christian love were a feeling and emotion how would it be possible to love our enemies?  Enemies are, by common definition, the people we do not love because they have in some way offended us or they are out to destroy us.  But, perfect love is not a feeling.  Perfect love is a choice to obey and love in action even when the feelings aren’t there.  Perfect love is a choice rather than a feeling, perfect love is the kind that sacrifices our own selfish ambitions for the good of others, and without that kind of love we are not actually true disciples of Jesus:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”  (1 John 4:7-21)

Christian love is preemptive.  Christian love follows the example of Jesus who loved us BEFORE we loved him.  True love is not based in initial attraction nor does it wait in fear of not being reciprocated.  True love steps out in faith.  Perfect love is not a pursuit of an immediate feeling or instant gratification. 

Love is a choice to invest in the good of another person even when we do not feel like they are worth our investment.  Love means a choice to obey and the choice to obey is a choice to follow the example of Jesus.

So, if love is a choice, then feelings do not matter?

No, not exactly.  I do believe feelings do matter.  But, a love based primarily in initial superficial attraction is a shallow love and deep love is only possible with deep (and self-sacrificial) commitment.  Deeper love is a continual choice to love more than a fleeting feeling of love.  For that reason we should be emphasizing the choice to love over the feeling of love and not the other way around.

This is not to say that those who started with a feeling of superficial attraction never develop depth of relationship—some do and some do not.  But I will say that love that is a choice and a commitment in faith is starting at a deeper level.  The better love is not a feeling.  The better love is a choice to put aside fear (or hate) and invest in the betterment of another person.  It is a love that is based in faith rather than feeling.

If love is a matter of will rather than a determined or predestined fate, then when a person says that they cannot love a person what they are really saying is that they unwilling to love that person.  The feelings can never develop in a person who is not willing to step out in faith.  Therefore, if you want to find love, be willing to bring love into the world and give it away in faith.

Love first.  Plant seeds of love in the world.  Do not wait on feelings to arrive before investing in the good of others.  Do not expect the Spirit of God to come to you (or the world) unless you live in obedience to the command to follow Jesus and love self-sacrificially by his example.  Love before you expect love to arrive.  Yes, this is absolutely a paradox, a causality dilemma, but that is the nature of our reality in a quantum universe.

Do not be resigned to an idea that we are haplessly tossed about without a will of our own.  Instead, consider the last lines of Invictus, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”  Choose to love supernaturally.  Be a co-creator of a higher and deeper love rather than a mere consumer of the feelings produced by base human nature.

What came first the description or the reality?

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I’ve had a friend recently characterize some people as “needy” or “clingy” and I had to wonder if those terms are used more often as a justification than as a fair description.  

My question is the classic chicken-or-egg-came-first causality dilemma expressed in our socialization.  Individuals create societies, but societies most definitely influence individuals and splitting up responsibility is not as easy as simply picking one or the other.

Causality: Words versus reality?

Descriptions do matter.  Describing adjectives are subjective points of view rather than concrete realities and yet themselves do help form reality.  Two people evaluating the same behavior can come to vastly different conclusions.  An alleged flirt could be described as friendly, being aggressive may be assertive, opinionated could be engaging, arrogant could be confident, pushy might be sincere and the list goes on.

Descriptions reflect our prejudices.  A negative description influences how others may interpret a person’s behavior and could harm them.  What we see as bad in another person’s behavior may actually say more about our own personality and weaknesses than theirs.  We could very well be blinded by our own perceptions of reality and be blinding others with our less than flattering words.

Good judgment requires good context.  If I were to say a person is “desperate for attention” there is a sort of pejorative sense assumed.  But, if that phrase was used in the context of serious physical injury with a need for immediate professional medical help, does that change the inflection?  For me it changes my interpretation of the ‘desperate’ person’s character.

Humans have many needs, all are things necessary for a healthy life or perspective of reality, and some needs are more immediate or pressing than others.  There’s a way the most reasonable or composed person can be made to become like a wild animal in less than a minute and all it takes is to cut off their air supply.  A person chocking a chicken bone or drowning is likely desperate, they are definitely needy and they might even get a bit clingy too.

Giving a cold shoulder to a starving soul…

Picture another scenario, picture a banquet hall, many at the table enjoying the abundance, some proclaiming loudly how blessed and full they are.  But, on all sides around those partaking are many others who are shut off from the food and drink.  Those at the table chatter and smile oblivious to those behind them.  Those outside are fully aware, they patiently wait their turn as the pangs of thirst and hunger build.

Finally, after this goes on for days, and those at the table take no notice, one of the outsiders taps one of the friendlier in appearance feasters on the shoulder asking just for a slice of bread and sip of water.  Unfortunately, the person at the table, fat from gorging themselves, looks back, they see the peaked figures behind them, they assume the outsiders must be sick with a deadly disease and, instead of offering sustenance, they are horrified.

What happens when a person has no access to food or drink?  They starve, they thirst and, if it continues long enough, even the most confident person will become increasingly desperate in their search for an answers and eventually fall into doubt or fear.  They will no longer enjoy the shouts of satisfaction of others and especially that of those who refuse to offer rescue, relief or help.  It is understandable if they got a bit pushy and increasingly desperate, right?

It is our job as people of faith to turn those who are outsiders into insiders:

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  (Colossians 4:5-6)

So, what should we do to be more loving?

Going back to needy or clingy, used as an assessment of human behavior, let me apply the feast scenario above to human need of companionship.  Like all people need air to breath and water to drink and food to eat, most people require a balanced diet of social interaction or inclusion to be happy and healthy.  A person shut off from necessary social sustenance will likely become increasingly desirous of affection or affirmation and with that their behavior may shift towards more assertiveness.

What could be hidden in our characterization of a person as being needy or desperate is a justification to mistreat them.  And, at very least, it is not helpful to tell a chocking person that “hey, you look desperate and needy.”  Without help offered, commentary on the obvious could sound more like a taunt than a useful observation.  At worse, it is stuffing a pejorative down their throat, giving them yet another reason to feel unvalued and isolated.

The needy and clingy characterization of someone is probably used unfairly in many cases and may be used as cover for our own wrongful attitudes.  If their appreciation of our companionship and if their affection towards us were valued, we would call them “appreciative and affectionate” instead.  But, the reason we call them clingy or needy is because we (or those we are defending) are at some level wanting to excuse ourselves from responsibility for their human needs.

Needy and clingy are a negative spin on appreciative or affectionate. They could be used as a pejorative to describe a person who we don’t value and also are damaging words if used to help shape the opinions of others.  Our insensitive use of language can have consequences.  Labels effect how we see ourselves and also how we see others.  If we were to tell someone who made mistakes they are “stupid” or “idiotic” we may actually impact their confidence negatively to the degree they respect or others respect our opinion.

Wisely using words that build rather than harm…

People need affirming words to make them grow more than they need their behavior characterized negatively.  Even bad experiences can be redeemed if reframed as an opportunity to learn or grow. Likewise a positive description can also be used to shape a person positively.  It is likely far more beneficial for a person already down on themselves to hear their hopes or desires given legitimacy and respect instead of derision.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. […] Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29, 32)

Describing a person negatively to others is rarely helpful.  To speak disparagingly about a person without giving them a chance to defend from the accusation is basically to murder their character.  

However, when times demand we must be critical and there are ways to offer criticism that help and other ways that hurt.  The first I recommend, rather than discuss them with other friends, is to go directly to them treating them as a friend.  This is the idea Jesus taught for addressing ‘sin’ against us (Matthew 18:15) and provides a chance for the offending party to explain themselves.  That is the way of love.

There are many wound, broken and hurting people in the world who are well aware of their own need.  These are people who need not be reminded again of their own deficiencies.  We do not know what they have had to overcome.  It is not our job to determine what another person does or does not deserve.  True love is not only kind or accepting to those most like us, but is self-sacrificial and gracious to the undeserving.  That is the way of Jesus.

Do your words feed and nourish a better reality?