Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Rule of Life #4 - Choices of Life

Too many times in our modern culture we look at society and -more specifically- ourselves and see only victims. We like to displace blame, rarely accepting responsibility for our actions, or displacing blame for those we sympathize with. There are countless examples to draw on, and anyone reading this will undoubtedly be thinking of different examples. The fact that we as Americans (and humans in general) have forgotten how to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions is no secret. This has been going on since the dawn of time and fluctuates based on a society's proximity to God.

Yet, as a student of psychology, I take a special interest in this relationship. Why do people do what they do? Are we really victims and able to say "society is to blame" or "my family is to blame" or whatever else we latch on to as a reason for our actions, trials or troubles? I don't think so. While I will not totally discount the behaviorist's approach that says external environmental factors are the primary source of human thoughts and behaviors, it is hardly the primary reason. If this was true, we would have been reduced to a tiny leaf floating in the ocean, helpless against where the tide pulled us. Don't get me wrong, environmental factors play a role, but it is simply a variable... and ultimately a small one in the grand scheme of things.

In wondering why people do what they do, I fell back on something I learned in high school. Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% of how we react to it. This is a hard thing to accept in a world that likes to displace blame for nearly everything. Yet, at the same time, it's true. External factors play a big role in our lives, but no matter the tragedy it is ultimately our decision how bad we are going to make the problem in our minds.

What causes people to start down the path of psychological illness? It's a question that's been around for a long time. Could it be as simple as our choice to react negatively to things? And once reacted negatively, hanging onto the bitterness, pain, hurt, anger and eventually ending up in a depression that has become a medical imbalance? I think it really is as simple as that. Sure, many psychological problems are due to chemical imbalances, but it had to begin somewhere, and that beginning is usually our poor reactions to situations.

We are all guilty of this - myself included. It's hard to be optimistic all the time, especially in the hardest of times. But this is what God calls us to do. It's not easy, but even Paul and Silus had the optimism to be able to sing and praise God while chained in a dark prison. It would have been easy to play the victim in that situation, because Paul and Silus truly were victims. But they understood that life was not about what happened to them. That is out of our control. Paul understood that life was about how we react to these events and he praised God for it anyway. It is a commandment that God gives us to be thankful in all things. Undoubtedly it is not the easiest commandment to keep, but it doesn't change the truth of the principle.

As an old teacher of mine loved to remind us, "Ideas have consequences". It's true, and so does our negative reactions to events that we cannot control. Life is about our reactions - not our being victims of events.

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