Good credit is essential for the up and coming capitalist. The average American needs it in order to function, and our economy depends on it. Some of us, though, feel as if credit is essential in another, non-financial realm:
We are tempted to quantify what, how well, how often, and who we do it for in order to gain a measure of social capital. We then use this capital as leverage or an improper motivation for living well.
If we’re not careful, we’ll use recognition to motivate us to keep doing well or to put others in our debt. Like George Costanza in the classic Seinfeld episode, “The Calzone,” it’s not enough for us to place a tip in the tip jar, we need to be seen doing it.
I noticed the embarrassing reality in my own life just last week. An illness had been keeping my neighbor from getting his yard ready for an upcoming gathering, so I loaded the truck with equipment and headed over to do it for him.
But why was there a voice in my head imagining the words of gratitude that would soon come from him and his wife? Why did I want credit for helping? Where did that come from and worse yet, why did I nurse it?
How about you? Are you dealing with credit problems?
I think we come wired from the factory to work, to help, to achieve, and to have those activities recognized. Early on in life, we experience the deep satisfaction of accomplishment or offering assistance. Completing a task, solving a problem, or contributing to the greater good resonates deep within us. Somewhere along the line, though, the intrinsic value of doing things well gets hijacked by the desire for external validation. We want someone else to notice and then complement us on what we’ve done. It’s not enough to fold the clothes or provide an encouraging word, we want credit for it. In his classic book, The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes: “The flesh whines against service, but it screams against hidden service.” We crave recognition for doing good. At some point, the attaboys begin to outweigh the innate worth of behaving honorably, working hard, or offering a helping hand. Left unchecked, merit badge morality replaces genuine integrity.
Living on Credit
Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good complement.” But given the addictive nature of approval and affirmation, my guess is that soon Twain would desire those complements more often. Once we begin to give power to the raters and grade givers in our life, we transition from occasionally receiving credit to constantly desiring it. When you allow the number of “likes” on Facebook to determine the value of your vacation, restaurant, or photo, I think you’ve been infected. Once you post something in hopes that someone will like it — whether it means anything to you or not — you’ve got the full-blown illness. But social media users are not the only ones living on credit. Marriages, work places, even close relationships are also contaminated by mercenaries who contribute solely for ego compensation. But like it’s economic counterpart, living on credit creates an unhealthy dependence on more credit to make it until the next “paycheck.”
When we spend all our energy establishing credit, then living on it (or for it), we become less and less likely to give credit to others — especially when we sense a little scarcity. We treat it like a southerner does milk and batteries at the first threat of snow. The fear of missing out takes over so instead of giving it, we keep it to ourselves. But imagine how life would be if, instead of longing for credit and taking credit, we would look for ways to give it to someone else? How difficult is it for you to give credit to someone who deserves it; the person who had the idea, the one who did all the leg work, the behind the scenes guy? Or are you more likely to withhold it? It would be easier for a politician to admit a mistake than for some of us to acknowledge the contribution of someone else.
Credit Where Credit is Due.
I think looking for ways to affirm others, celebrate their contributions, and encourage your team — rather than monitoring your credit score — is the first step. If this seems difficult to you, I suggest starting small. Find somebody doing something right (make sure it’s something you couldn’t care less about) and acknowledge it. Then avoid the temptation to tell yourself what a great person you are for being so generous with your praise. Then, as Foster suggests, discipline yourself to serve, encourage, bless, etc. in secret.
Because, ultimately, it’s not about you.
I love the discipline and intentionality of the Baroque composer, J.S. Bach. Before he marked one note on the staff, Bach penned the letters JJ at the top of the first page. These letters were an abbreviation of a prayer he prayed before the composition, asking the Lord to help him declare His greatness through the music and desiring that it would bring joy to the Lord and to His people. He then ended each piece with the letters, SDG, Soli Deo Gloria. For the glory of God alone.
Change the Scorecard
What if you began your day by simply writing and meditating on the initials JJ, asking God to help you bring joy to Himself and joy to His people? And in the evening, just before you fire up the CPAP, review your day and ask if you lived it for the glory of God alone.
For He alone is worthy, Christ the Lord. John Francis Wade