Friday, June 12, 2020

How to Not Obsess in a World Out of Control

Stressed out over the fact that there are many large scale issues out of your control? Dan Miller shares good advice this week . . .

I Want to Change the Wold

In his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey distinguishes between two circles. The first is our Circle of Concern. This includes a whole range of things – global warming, the state of the economy, the current pandemic, societal attitudes including racism and bigotry, the apparent collapse of political systems, the demise of the American church, and more. The actual list will depend on the individual, but the important thing is to understand there may be little you can do about these large scale issues since they are outside your influence. Devoting energy on them may be a waste of time - the equivalent of yelling at the television - and our energy is thus depleted.

Our Circle of Influence will be much smaller but includes the things we can actually do something about.

People who focus on their Circle of Concern - because they have very little direct control - are often reactive and maintain an attitude of victimization and blame.

The extent of your control will obviously be related to your power - if you’re the President of the United States, the chairman of NASA, the CEO of General Motors, or the Pope, you may have far more influence than the average person. But the key is to focus our energy on those things we can influence. And thus we can in fact initiate effective change. And when we do this with wisdom and decisive action, we’ll find our Circle of Influence will increase in scope. Conversely, if all your energy goes into things you cannot control, your Circle of Influence will shrink. Not only will you waste your energy and perhaps destroy the very resources needed for positive change, you’ll feel frustrated, drained of energy, and others will see you as a negative force to be avoided.

And yes, this presents a very dicey balance. If we assume our Circle of Influence is small and thus we have no power or impact, we can justify inaction on large scale issues. We can bury our heads in the sand, protect our tiny space or escape to a place of isolation. So what do we do with problems like lack of clean water in foreign countries? What about challenges of adequate food or housing right here in the United States? What do we do when desperate immigrant families are locked up when approaching our borders? How do we correct racism and police brutality?

If I watch TV and scream in anger at the injustice or join the incensed mob in breaking windows in my home town, I may be acting righteously in my Circle of Concern, but the likelihood of positive change is slim.

On the other hand, if I focus my energy on working with my neighbors on cleaning up the local park, or leave an extra tip at the newly reopened restaurant, or provide work for an immigrant family, or supply a hand-up to a young black lady who just got out of prison, or be an example of health and optimism in the face of a pandemic, I can expand my Circle of Influence, and create a small positive change on those larger issues.

When I spend my mental, emotional and spiritual energy serving others and adding value to their lives, rather than tearing things down, I can create a tiny ripple toward the major challenges in the world. And each of us is equipped with unique skills to accomplish that. We don’t all need to find positions with nonprofits, church or political organizations; rather, finding work that engages God’s greatest gifts to you is likely your best way to improve your life and, subsequently, help improve the lives of your family, your friends, the members of your community, and ultimately, the entire world.

I’m reminded of this inscription on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey, dated 1100 A. D. (I used this with permission in No More Dreaded Mondays)

“When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits,
I dreamed of changing the world.
As I grew older and wiser I discovered the world would not change –
So I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country,
But it too seemed immovable.
As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt,
I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me,
But alas, they would have none of it.
And now I realize as I lie on my deathbed, if I had only changed myself first,
Then by example I might have changed my family,
From their inspiration and encouragement I would then have been able to better my country,
And who knows, I might have even changed the world.”

Picture used by permission from Pixabay.


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