Have you ever thought about how profoundly our lives are shaped by the presence of the people in our lives?
Recently I was speaking to a group of men about pride and arrogance. I posed this question: “If you lived on a desert island, all by yourself, do you think you would struggle with pride? You would have all the comforts and amenities of life, you would, however, be all alone.” As they pondered the question, they all concluded that pride and arrogance would probably not be an issue in their lives.
Think about it. There would be no one to compare yourself with. You would not be comparing your kids with other people’s children. There would be no one to compete with and no one to impress. Envy and jealousy would vanish. You would not be concerned about what people thought of you. Let’s face it, so many of the struggles of life would go away. Voltaire said, “We are rarely proud when we are alone.”
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says of pride, “It is the comparison that makes you proud, it is the pleasure of being above the rest.” When there is no one to compare yourself with or no one who you feel superior to, pride will diminish in your life.
Psychotherapist Anthony de Mello shared some interesting words on people and how their opinions have such influence over us. He says,
Look at your life and see have you have filled its emptiness with people. As a result they have a stranglehold on you. See how they control your behavior by their approval and disapproval. They hold the power to ease your loneliness with their company, to send your spirits soaring with their praise, to bring you down to the depths with their criticism and rejection. Take a look at yourself spending almost every waking moment of your day placating and pleasing people, whether they are living or dead. You live by their norms, conform to their standards, seek their company, desire their love, dread their ridicule, long for their applause, meekly submit to the guilt they lay upon you; you are terrified to go against the fashion in the way you dress or speak or act or even think.
In my work with businessmen, I have concluded that all men daily ask themselves in one form or another, “What do people think about me?” More specifically, “What do they think of me as a man? Do I measure up?” Many a man lives his entire life trying to prove to the watching world that he is a successful man and that his life matters.
I heard a lecture by author Donald Miller given to a sizable group of students at Harvard. He said:
Human beings are wired so that they need some great authority outside themselves to tell him or her who they really are. But for many people that voice is not there, because their lives are not oriented towards God. When that is the case, the very first thing that will happen in their lives will be to question their worth and their value. Does my life really matter? And this is what causes us to begin to hide ourselves from others.
Miller goes on to say that he recognizes this to be true in the lives of all people, including important people and famous celebrities. Once he saw how we no longer look to God to give us our worth and identity, he understood why we are so addicted to the approval of others and being seen as successful in their eyes.
Clearly, we need to return to God, that great authority outside ourselves, to tell us who we are. Until we return to Him and center our lives upon Him, Life will be confusing and we will never know who we really are.
As you read and study both the Old and New Testaments, you will notice that God is always confronting His people with a choice. I am reminded of Joshua in a pivotal moment in Israel’s history when he asked the people to choose the god that they would serve. I believe that if he stood before us today, in the midst of the difficult times we are in, he would confront us with a similar choice.
Choose for yourselves today the god whom you will serve: the god of wealth, the god of prestige and power, the god of pleasure, the god of achievement. But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15, author paraphrase).
Each of us must choose the god we are going to serve, and then we will have to live with all the consequences that flow from that choice.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.