Wednesday, August 10, 2011

First Things First

There are two words that have been burned into my brain. It started when I began dating my now-wife Amy. Her dad, David, always used these two words when he would speak to her and her two brothers. Every so often, he would utter this simple phrase that painted a picture of his expectations of his family, and of others in general: “Privileges and Responsibilities.”

I think of this phrase often. In fact, my kids have become familiar with “P & R” as the standard of what is expected of them. They have Grandpa to thank for that.

Here’s how it works: when you show that you are responsible, then you earn privileges. It’s that simple. And, although the word “privileges” comes first when we speak that phrase, demonstrating responsibility must always precede earning privileges. If it doesn’t, bad things happen.

Unfortunately, we now live in a society that rewards bad behavior and irresponsibility. Kids (and adults) get away with murder. Why? Because there are rarely any REAL consequences to negative and harmful behavior. Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor at NorthPoint Community Church, coined perhaps the best phrase to explain this phenomenon: What’s rewarded is repeated.
What Stanley means is this: when someone hurts someone else, or does damage to something, or is just outright mean, but is never disciplined for this behavior, that very behavior continues. NOT punishing the individual is actually rewarding the behavior.

I think about the destructive attitude of self-entitlement that so many people carry with them, and how it reinforces this endless cycle. It’s a “do it first, ask questions later” mentality. There’s no honor in it. The privilege has not been earned, but is taken anyway.
Perhaps someone decides to borrow a tent without asking permission from someone. They take the tent, use it, and return it. But, the tent top wasn’t cleaned. The stakes and tie-downs are misplaced. There’s sand and dirt everywhere inside the bag. All the person thinks is, “I borrowed the tent and returned it. See – no big deal.” But, the next time the owner of the tent gets it out, it’s a mess. And, now he or she has to clean it up.

Maybe you ask to drive your friend’s van or truck because you need to load something, and your Prius won’t cut it. You pick up the load of stuff, then unload and return the vehicle. But, it never occurs to you to check the backseat and cargo areas. There’s soot and debris in the floorboards. And, you neglected to see the candy bar wrapper and empty Styrofoam cup you left in the front. Not to mention the three gallons of gas you used on your trip. Will the owner be as willing to help you in the future?

This all may sound nit-picky, but it’s a big deal. And, it’s cyclical: what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. The Golden Rule. All those clich├ęs and sayings are so true when it comes to how our actions and behaviors either come back to either haunt us or to repay us later.

And, guess what they all come back to? That’s right – Privileges and Responsibilities. When we can speak to people with honor and respect, can treat others’ possessions as our own, and demonstrate that we are trustworthy, we will earn rewards and privileges as a result.

But, if we fail to show responsibility on the front end, and we try to take privileges before we’ve earned them, we dig ourselves a huge hole. And, that is when the responsibilities really begin to pile up, and there’s a long way to go before trust can be gained.

Just put first things first – responsibility and respect – and see how everything can begin to fall into place, and how eager people will be to find ways to return the favor.

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