My three-year-old son prefers to dress up in full Spider Man attire – virtually every day. When I ask him why, he says that he wants to get “big” so he can help me “fight the bad guys.” Every time I leave the house he asks, “Dad, are you going to fight the bad guys?” Often, he cries if I don’t take him with me. I’ve tried everything I can think of to help him feel better about staying home, especially on days where I have to head to the courthouse. Once, I just couldn’t console him – and he was determined – so I told my wife I’d take him with me to file some documents. Of course, I had to convince him to go in disguise – because if he wore his Spider Man outfit, the bad guys might see him coming. He hesitantly agreed to wear his normal clothes, and off to the courthouse we went. As we walked in through the door – the first people we encountered were the Sheriff deputies performing their security scan, and escorting people through the metal detectors. Of course, the first thing my son did is walk right up to the first Sheriff he saw and asked, “Where are the bad guys?” He then proceeded to tell each of the deputies on duty that we were there to fight the bad guys. One of these days, my son and I are going to have to have a long conversation about exactly who the bad guys are – but… that is another story.
The reason I bring this up is that, as children, most of us learned to admire heroes. But, somewhere along the winding path to adulthood, we’ve lost track of our own innate sense of wonder and admiration. For too many of us, one of the sad consequences of adulthood is the false sense of “sophistication” that we cling to while giving up our faith, and I mean real faith, and we only allow ourselves see those people we once imagined and called “heroes” as flawed and/or exaggerated examples, and sometimes as only unreal fictional icons. Oddly, we willingly and quietly tolerate this slow ebbing away of our admiration and esteem and quite frankly spend most of our lives admiring and esteeming essentially no one. Why? What is it that is so convincing, that we actually prefer to see the “real” world as brutal and uninspiring? Even worse, lost within our own supposed realism is also our once innocent belief that we too might actually live life – as a hero.
Crazy. And, don’t think I’m not talking about you. When we were children, most of us dressed up or pretended to be cops, firefighters, superheroes, etc., but as adults – we have actually forgotten that we once aspired to actually BE these kinds of heroes. Think about it. Now, as adults, too often a grey cloud (usually un-admittedly) hangs over our mind, and we have given in to the day-to-day grind of life’s pressures and along with it, the very real choice we have – to live a hero’s life. Or in simpler terms, most of us simply fail to grasp the concept. Choosing to live the heroic life – the principled life – is a choice placed before each of us – every day. What we do with this choice – is up to us. We can choose to look for an escape, a new hollywood movie or a few new Internet stories about other people, somewhere else – doing wonderful, miraculous and inspiring things – or we can look inside. We get to choose. And, tThe point is – no one else gets to accept or reject that choice for us – it remains ever present, regardless of our past, or our view of our future. Do you believe it?
The individual who grasps this concept can live a powerful, inspiring, and satisfying life for himself – but he or she will also become a very real hero to children,friends, and likeminded folks who recognize the virtue of living on more than whims and emotional reactions. The world, as I see it, definitely has room for more heroes, and interestingly, there are many “average every day folks” who probably have no idea how inspirational they have become to o me, my family, and our friends.
Sadly, too many of us have been trained and conditioned to wait – perpetually – for someone else to rescue us (and often those we love) from life’s most difficult challenges and situations. Politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, you name it – most of us spend our entire lives waiting to be saved by these people – only to grow increasingly bitter, sad, disappointed, and hopeless. But, this is not necessary. This is not the path to happiness, prosperity, or peace. In fact, the realization in the mind of a man or woman – or a boy or a girl – that he or she can actually transcend the normal mundane realities of life, and the common mindset of victimhood – to actually become a victor, a hero, a producer, a person who through their own life and choices, matters – this is the goal of true education and this is the life men are destined to lead if they would simply make that lonely, but every so significant choice.
“Ye Are Gods”
One of the most controversial teachings of all time was revealed when the Lord taught that man exists to act for himself rather than to be acted upon. Because, once the mind conceives of this truth, other self-evident truths, naturally follow. When a person grasps this truth at its roots – it becomes clear, “Ye are gods, even children of the most high.” More poignantly, this highlights the difference between living life as a god and living life as a devil. When the Jesus was accused of blasphemy for proclaiming himself the Son of God, he responded:
Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
All of us are the children of God, yet the devil would like us to be miserable, to forget our royal heritage, and to live life as things acted upon rather than with courage and deliberateness, making the world a better place. How is this teaching effecting you? How much time do you spend lamenting the feeling of “being acted upon” rather than the soul satisfying feeling of acting, of your own will and choice – for good. Both worlds are possible, but only one is worth choosing. Do we do the works of God? Do we choose liberty and life?
Five Minutes That Changed My Life Forever
There is a clear difference between acting for ourselves, and being acted upon. When a change is needed, and a person wants to move from being a state of constantly being and feeling acted upon, to a state of being an agent who acts and chooses for himself/herself, a change in perception and perspective is usually the starting point.
A few years ago, I was in a business meeting with three of my top executives. We were having an unplanned meeting to deal with some of our most pressing business issues. During the conversation, it dawned on me that none of us had spent any time deliberately preparing for our discussion. I also noticed that as a result we were being acted upon by the pressure of expectations outside ourselves. This, I’ve noticed, is a pattern, to which people become habitually, but subconsciously addicted. This is the same way a person assents to a life of perpetual victimhood. This is not to say that their are no “victims” in the world. There are countless and sometimes unspeakable tragedies that befall human beings – everyone, all the time. I’m not suggesting that when bad things or painful things happen, we should deny that someone has been hurt, or damaged. Quite the opposite. What I’m saying is that when these things happen – whether they be big or small, frequent or infrequent – the human mind has a choice. A person can see themselves immersed in pain, hurt, and tragedy – with nothing to do except react to the supposed pressures and expectations that come from that circumstance. Or, a person can see themselves immersed in pain, hurt, and tragedy – and make a different choice. But, we’ll get to that second choice in a second.
First, I want to share with you the rest of the story, as I was meeting with my business partners. As I pondered our situation, an idea flashed into my mind. I said, “I’d like to take exactly five minutes to focus in complete silence on this one very specific issue.” I then asked each executive to write down any ideas that came to his mind while we pondered that one simple matter-very deliberately, together and in silence. The challenge I issued to them was to think of a solution or a way of responding positively, to this very specific problem our company was facing. I asked them, “If this challenge was left entirely up to you, what could you do?” “What might we do?”
I asked them to consider all possibilities, no matter how random or bold. Then, once I confirmed that they each understood, I looked at the clock and said, “Okay, five minutes; please don’t make a sound.” The seconds began ticking by. At first not much happened, it was just three grown men looking around, occasionally at each other, all probably feeling a little odd at the moment. But, after a few minutes, one of my friends started to jot down an idea. Only a few seconds later, another started to write. Once I saw them writing, I too decided to jot down a few ideas. Finally, by the time there was only about thirty seconds left, I noticed that we were all writing – and we were writing quickly. At the end of five minutes I said, “Okay, time is up.” My partners looked at me with a different look than when we had begun. Each had a faint smile, and we were all realizing that this had been a good experiment. Both of my friends had some kind of new brightness in their faces and the feeling in the room was much different than the pressure we had very vividly felt – just five minutes earlier.
I asked each of them to share the ideas that they had written. I also shared mine. One at a time we each went through our lists and by the time we had finished, the power of having been deliberate was evident. The surprising reality was that in just five minutes of deliberateness we had made more progress than we had done in many months and many hours of previous discussions on that very same issue. At the end of the meeting we selected some of the best items off of our lists, and created an action plan that led our company to overcome the challenge we were facing at the time and the solutions actually became part of our normal course of business from that point forward. That simple five-minute experiment changed our business, because it changed our perspective. I’ll never forget it.
Walking Down the Middle of a Busy Street
On another occasion I learned more about the power of acting for myself, of being deliberate and choosing the hero’s life. I remember making the decision to take a walk down the double yellow line in the center of a busy downtown street in front of my office building.
Now, before you rush to conclusions, this wasn’t something silly. At the time, I had been given a difficult church assignment, to work with two single women in our local church congregation. They were both single mothers who didn’t regularly attend meetings, lived in very poor conditions, and didn’t seem to like the idea of receiving assistance from anyone in the church. For months, I struggled with my assignment. It was difficult to even obtain their phone numbers. I prayed about my assignment and made token efforts to reach out to them. But, I had no success. Whenever I reached out, my efforts were quickly ignored or dismissed. It had been nearly six months since I was first given the assignment when the idea came very clearly to my mind that I was failing to make any difference in the lives of these two women whatsoever. I felt bad about the situation, but I didn’t have any idea of what to do. I attempted to justify myself by remembering each of the times I had tried to reach out but had been rebuffed; however, nothing seemed to quench the gnawing within me-that seemed to be saying, “You’re failing.”
I was being acted upon, by my own fears and doubts, and quite frankly by my own bad habits of thought. I didn’t realize it then, but I was about to be given an opportunity to get out of my own victim story (actually feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t good enough, or smart enough to solve the problem, and even being a little angry at these two sisters who dared to refuse my help). I was about to be given an opportunity to write a new story – a hero’s story.
Several years before, I had read a book called “As a man thinketh.” One of the things I remember from the book is the idea that life/the universe/God has a way of giving us exactly the trial we need – at exactly the time we need it – to grow and improve. This is what happened to me.
One mid-summer afternoon, as I sat in my office, a very strange unusual thing happened. I was working away on a project where I was behind a deadline, and very focused. But, out of the blue I found myself thinking about these two women. And, just as I was thinking about them, unannounced and out of the blue, my secretary came in and told me that they had actually arrived, together, at my office. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. “How odd,” I though to myself, “at the very moment I was thinking of them.” Obviously, I agreed to see them without hesitation. As they sat across from my desk, I couldn’t stop thinking how odd it was to have both of them, these two very specific souls – now sitting together, directly in front of me. They proceeded to explain that due to some unforeseen circumstances they were both facing a situation where they would soon be homeless. As a matter of fact, one of them was required to be out of her house – that very day. They had successfully secured a new apartment, planning to move in together, but the new place was a mess, needed cleaning, and required some minor repairs. In addition, they had no help for the move.
They told me that they had no pickups, no friends to assist, and no plans for making the move happen; yet they had planned the move for that very day. If they weren’t out by midnight, the one young lady was going to be locked out by the landlord and risked loosing her things. They had tried to reach a few people they knew, to ask for help, but had been unsuccessful. So, as they were discussing the situation, they thought of me. So, here they were, sitting in my office, asking for my help.
Remember: Things to act, and things to be acted upon.
I told the women that I would be happy to help, but because of the challenges and deadlines that I was facing at work, I explained that it would be several hours before I could break free to help. I told them I could show up around 5:30pm that evening. I envisioned that I would help load boxes, move a few items, but really nothing more.
They were both very nice, and thanked me for my offer, but I could tell they were disappointed. They expressed that they understood how busy I was and that they were grateful that I would be able to help later that evening. Then, very quietly, they smiled and politely left my office. As they left, I knew something was wrong.
I couldn’t get back to work, because there was a feeling that I could not deny, that something was wrong, and that I had failed. I thought about how odd it was that they had showed up, right as I was thinking of them. I wondered how they even knew where my office was. But, I felt conflicted. I even remember thinking it was silly for anyone to schedule a move with so little planning. Of course, they explained, it wasn’t their fault; it was unanticipated, etc., but I had heard such excuses many times before. Nevertheless, as I sat there in my office, thinking back over the whole experience, I could not deny that deep inside something started to gnaw at my core.
The feeling was direct and poignant, and I could not deny it. I knew for certain that all my rationalizations meant nothing. I knew I had been praying for months for a way to reach out to each of these women, and for months the only thing preventing me from making the world a better place for them and myself was my own lame pattern of excuses. I acknowledged to myself that I was not acting “like a man,” and I knew it. The more I went over the situation in my mind, the more powerfully I felt inspired to do something about it. But what?
I suppose about fifteen minutes had passed since I had escorted the women from my office. I was sitting there by myself in silence, staring at the idea that I had failed. I knew, no matter how stressed I was with my own problems, there was no excuse for failing to do a better job when these nice young ladies had come to my office to ask for help. The growing discomfort in my mind and my heart grew unbearable. I became almost obsessed wondering what else I could do. At first, I couldn’t think of anything. Then, I started to ask myself some very specific questions. Then, feeling like I was still missing the larger picture, I actually got on my knees and prayed.
I knew I must do something. I felt like I needed to do something, right then, without delay. But, this was long before cell phones. I had no way to reach either of them. When they left, they told me that they were going to be running errands, and were planning to see me several hours later back at the home where their move was to take place. So, as a practical matter, I realized that I was in a dillema. I felt impressed to do something right away, but I had no way of finding these ladies to get started. Or, to put it another way, I knew I could make a difference – even though I didn’t yet know what I would do – and I was certain taht I could not wait another minute to do it. Then, as I sat pondering my new dilemma, a very strange idea came to my mind.
It was as if a voice said to me, “Go walk down the middle of the street.”
I’m not kidding. That is the idea that came into my mind. At first, I chuckled. I wondered about the source of my inspiration. But, it only took a second before I recognized that this was in fact what I needed to do, and I could not deny it. So, I got up from my office chair and headed straightway out the door. My secretary noticed me leaving and as I walked out the door asked me where I was going. Maybe it was because I was so determined, or maybe it was because I was so focused, but I wasn’t worried at all about how strange it would sound – so I simply replied, “I’m going to go walk down the middle of the road.”
My secretary’s name was Steve. I could tell he was a bit perplexed by my answer, because he too got up and followed me outside. As we got to the sidewalk, he looked right at me and asked agin, “So, what are you doing?”
I looked out at the double yellow line in the center of road and then turned to my secretary and explained, “I’m going to help those two women, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.” Then, I took off for the center of the road. When I reached the double yellow line, I decided to start walking west. Of course, there were cars driving both ways on each side of the double line, and this wasn’t exactly the most normal thing to be doing. But, as I walked down the middle of the line, following the instructions I had been inspired with, my secretary walked with me (staying on the sidewalk, of course, looking at me with some degree of disbelief. After about twenty or thirty yards I stopped responding to his questions and just kept walking. I just kept paying close attention to the cars, and and keeping my feet, one step after the other, on the double yellow line. Looking back – I admit it was a rather odd thing to do.
It wasn’t long before I reached the end of the road, where it approached a busy intersection. The intersection was controlled by a traffic light. I paused, wondering to myself how much danger I was really willing to put myself in, in order to keep walking the line. I’m sure it was only for a second or two, but as I stood their, the absurdity of what I was doing started to bother me. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next, and then, a car came, driving very quickly around the corner and quite literally almost ran me over.
The car swerved to avoid hitting me, and pulled over to the side of the road. I thought for sure the driver was going to be angry, and I had no rational explanation as to why I, as a grown man, was standing in the middle of the road. So, I slowly walked over to the car, expecting that the driver would want to hear and explanation or give me a piece of his mind. But, tTo my great astonishment, inside the car were the same two women that I was looking for. The woman in the passenger side rolled down her window and with an astonished look on her face asked, “Rick, what are you doing walking down the middle of the road?”
I was so happy to see them. I responded with a sigh, and told them, “I think God wanted me to find you, and this is the only way that was going to happen.” I confessed that I had made a mistake earlier, and to that that I’d like to take charge of getting them moved – starting that very minute.
The rest of the story is too long to tell, but suffice it to say, the mood between the three of us changed dramatically. We all recognized that something was much different than only a short time before. I went straight to the task, and called over 25 men in the middle of the day without any warning. I simply requested – in a rather stern but friendly way – that they all meet me with boxes, trucks, hand-trucks, furniture dollies, etc. Then, I headed over to the house. I had no idea, in advance, how many people would actually be showing up to help.
When I arrived, the ladies weren’t yet home. But, in very short order, men and women began to arrive from all directions. My call had triggered other calls. Soon, almost everyone that I had called arrived, and many brought others. In less than about thirty minutes we had so much help, I couldn’t count everyone. We had trucks, boxes, and lots of willing hands. We all went to work. Amazingly, in just a few hours, we had the entire home packed and moved, including having cleaned and made the needed repairs to the new apartment.
I’ll never forget standing in the center of the main floor of that house, simply directing traffic because there were so many people there to help. I had never before witnessed such an effective and heartfelt response. The people who showed up came with a unique spirit about them, and the work was accomplished almost as a by-product. When the two women finally arrived to help get the move started, they were astonished to discover all the work had already been completed. They were brought to tears. Before they could even get back to their house, we had them moved, and everything was already accomplished.
When I got back to my office later that night, I still had the same pressing deadlines and projects that I did earlier in the day. But, I felt differently about myself and the world. Most importantly, I knew that I had finally overcome my excuses, and had stepped up to the plate and an amazing result followed.
Heroes: The Power of Being Deliberate
There is a power that comes with deliberateness. In both of these stories, which were actual occurrences in my life, there were clear, small but significant moments when I learned something very powerful. I learned something of the difference between acting and being acted upon. I felt the difference between being a victim of circumstance and a hero who had chosen to act deliberately. In those minutes, a brief glance through the mundane in life, I knew that I had chosen to be an agent, a hero, and even in a very meaningful but humble way, one who had in those instances acted deliberately to create a better world.
Much of life is about finding importance and making a difference. The answer to our search is unique for each of us, as unique as the individual situations and challenges we face each day. I have learned through my own experience something of the sacred and amazing possibilities that lay at the core of why each of us is here on the earth. Through many small moments like these two experiences, I have come to know that being very deliberate in my efforts has enabled me to tap into the power of a hero, which is literally the power to change the world.
Endnote: I originally wrote this essay several years ago. This past halloween, as I saw my children getting dressed up in their costumes I was happy to see them thinking about heroes. Its interesting how invincible young children act when they are “pretending” to be a hero – as if they are freed from rational restrictions and burdens. As I saw this, I thought back to this essay. I still think it needs to be re-written, its clumsy and disjointed, but the truth of the message is powerful. I remain convinced that within the immediate grasp of anyone reading this essay is the possible choice of living the hero’s life, and to begin a new or better path of choosing to act for oneself, and refusing to live a life of being acted upon. Its possible, and its a better way to live.