Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Biggest Wimp of All

What image does the term "wimp" bring to your mind?

Not hard to guess. All the way back to the "Popeye" cartoons, someone who is characterized by wimpiness is assumed to be weak, lacking in self-confidence, and most importantly, unwilling to fight or unable to defend himself in a confrontation. A wimp, in most people's minds, is a person who is more likely to allow himself to be taken advantage of rather than to stand up for himself. A person who fears a fight more than he fears the loss of respect involved in refusing to fight.

A tough guy, on the other hand, is any member of the A-Team, willing and able to throw a punch and connect over the slightest provocation, knocking people out cold without a thought. A little closer to daily reality, a tough guy is someone who is eager to intimidate, ready to defend himself, and even willing to get physical if necessary (or perhaps when not totally necessary, but fitting with his frame of mind).

At least that is the defense the tough guy will offer for his actions. Unfortunately, our culture has become steeped in a twisted version of toughness, in which many people walk around with ridiculously shaky chips on their shoulders, so eager to confront and fight over almost anything, it makes you wonder how people became so touchy.

Fighting has been a prominent part of my work experience in my nine years of public school administration. Over these years, I have dealt with many students and their parents in the aftermath of fights that break out in school. Parental reactions vary somewhat, but a common theme is this one: "I've taught my child to defend himself, so he shouldn't be punished for fighting!" Of course, the student is punished anyway, despite his sensei's teachings, and learns a hard lesson. Unfortunately, the parent has given the child a weapon and a blessing, but not the judgment to use it properly. Self-defense in a truly life-threatening situation is one thing. Creating a needless melee in a perfectly safe public place is something altogether different.

Most of the time, these disturbances arise from nothing more than gossip. Second, third, even fourth-hand, unsubtantiated rumor is oftentimes the only basis for the confrontation that erupts and turns physical. Oftentimes the root of the problem is an insult perceived when none was intended. A glance or a gesture can also serve as the catalyst for open conflict.

Rarely is the cause for the fight something the students will still feel strongly about the next day, let alone the next week or month. The consequences of the confrontation far outweigh the original spark that set it off.

Sadly, any viewing of the TV show Cops will remind us that this description is not limited to adolescents, but applies to many adults as well.

What does this say about the nature of the wordly "tough guy"? (Or "girl", of course. Our culture is filled with girls and women
who are just as devoted to this way of thinking as any boy or man. You've come a long way, baby.)

This world's tough guy equates respectability with strength, which in his mind means the ability to make sure no one takes advantage of him or gets away with insulting him. Since this is his most dearly held value, he finds insult in daily interactions where none was intended, and he is quick to confront over the slightest violation of his self-imposed code. Pity the poor soul who tells a third party something derogatory about the tough guy, or who pulls out in front of the tough guy on the road, or who even makes eye contact with the tough guy in a way he doesn't like.

You just don't mess with this person, because this person is strong.

As usual, Scripture challenges the commonly held human assumptions about things.

Proverbs 16:32 reads, "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city."

We're accustomed to hearing about being slow to anger, but the phrase "rules his spirit" packs a punch more potent than anything this world's tough guy has in his arsenal. As Scripture reveals, the strength it takes to control oneself is far greater than the strength it takes to intimidate, confront, challenge, and fight another person.

"Ruling the spirit" includes far more than simply avoiding open warfare with other people. What about our reactions to the things people do? Do we react to rumor, rather than demanding facts? What about our thoughts concerning other people's motives? What about our wishes toward others? Do we assume the worst about people? Are we quick to judge our neighbors? Do we bear ill will, and hope for bad things to happen to other people? Do we churn with anger over perceived slights and insults?

Or, are we willing to take every thought captive for Christ? (2 Cor. 10:5). Are we willing to make the mental and emotional effort to keep our neighbors' actions in perspective, and see the good along with the bad? Are we willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, and not allow negative assumptions about their motives? Are we willing to pray for our enemies and refrain from wishing them harm? Do we remember our own faults when rehashing those of people we don't like? Do we keep alive the joy of our salvation, even in the face of inconsiderate acts all around us?

Make no mistake: Christians are not called to be mere pushovers. Jesus Himself took a stand against making His Father's house a house of merchandise, by driving the peddlers out of the temple. Christians, too, may be called upon to display outwardly visible strength for His purposes. But Jesus also instructed His disciples to give to others who ask, and to give more than others ask, and not to worry about being insulted, in order to demonstrate the love of the One we belong to. (Matt. 5:38-42). The glory of God is the important thing. Our personal feelings are not.

Who is the bigger wimp?

The student who avoids a fight at school? Or, the student who throws a punch over a rumored insult?

The wife who ignores criticism of her husband, or the wife who puts her husband in an even more difficult position by making a scene over it?

The man who continues to treat his inconsiderate neighbor with grace, or the man who returns slight for slight, and provocation for provocation?

The husband at home helping put his children to bed, or the shirtless, drunken fool being wrestled to the ground by law enforcement at 2 a.m. on Cops?

In each of these examples, our culture calls the former soft, and the latter tough. In reality, the latter is the wimp, the wuss, the pushover, the milquetoast. He or she is led by the leash by Satan, bent and submissive before the power of the evil one, barking when he says to bark, jumping when he says to jump, shamefully yielding the entire human will to the puppetry of a master manipulator. That's what is really happening behind the intimidating facade we see on the surface of the world's "tough guy".

Here is where the fundamental misunderstanding lies: Toughness or softness is not primarily related to what people see on the outside. It is first a matter of who has control. Do our actions, especially our acts of strength, come from Christ, or do they come from Satan? Whose purposes do they serve?

Peter demonstrated strength when he rejoiced at being "counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41), not when he cut a man's ear off with a sword (John 18:12) in an attempt to prevent Jesus's arrest.

The real tough guy is the one with the guts to face down Satan, and, by the power of Christ, cause the coward to flee. (James 4:7) He or she is living in Christ, blessed with the presence of the Spirit, able to look at Satan's temptations, see them for what they really are, and yield no ground to his evil.

So, what will it be, tough guy?


Paul Ford said...

I enjoy your blog, and at times find myself filled with anger. So your post hits me square between the eyes. If I too can remember Jesus not only as my ultimate sacrifice, but also as my ultimate example -- He was beaten, but spoke not a word. Also, if I can remember this passage:

Colossians 1:9 For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

Rodney*J said...

You have proven to be, as always, a man of wise words. Thank you, great sensei! :-) Besides meeting the challenge you gave me to find my "word," reading your entry was something I really needed right now.