Eight Things You Can Do To Be A Better Human Being
It is my very nature to be self-focused, self-centered, and self-aggrandizing. It’s also yours. So here are eight things I’ve learned that can help you in your life-long project of becoming a better person. I wish I had known all of them when I was much younger and becoming an adult, and even earlier than that. But I had to learn them on my own and you should know that there are a lot of regrets on my part bound up in these lessons. This ought not to be so for you.
Yes, we must repent before God and rest in His forgiveness. But that kind of “repent” isn’t exactly what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about being willing and ready to repent before other people. Admit when you are wrong, behaved badly, or in any other way have given into your fleshy nature. Ask for forgiveness and then try to do better in the future. When someone points something out, like say a boss, a family member, a friend, or even a stranger, consider their words. Ask yourself: “Why did they say that? Is that really true?” Ask those who love you to be honest, then allow them to actually be honest. They are your best resource for learning the many not-so-wonderful things about yourself that you don’t even realize are there.
People are going to be people. They’re going to fail, make mistakes, and in many other ways hurt you just as you will hurt them. There will come a time in your life when you will wish more than anything that you hadn’t said or done a thing that you did in a moment of anger or weakness. You’ll understand in that time what it means to be forgiven by the one you have offended. Never forget that moment. Recall it when someone is genuinely sorry and be eager to put grievances behind you. The older you get, or the worse the offense, the more difficult this will be. Ask God for help.
3. Check your motivation
Everything you set your hand to in this life will be the result of a motivation of some sort. There’s no getting around it and that fact is not necessarily a bad thing. But it can become a bad thing when we are motivated by the wrong things, things like the praise of others for example. You will avoid much embarrassment if you would spend your life working diligently at keeping your base motivations, that is the lust for praise and approval, in check. You may ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Why am I saying this thing about myself if not to impress? Do I want to be seen doing this or that thing?” The answers will be telling.
4. Check your thinking
Your thoughts are indicators of your future doings. Control your thought life and you will be a long way down the road of controlling yourself, which in and of itself is a Herculean task. Our thoughts toward others can also lead us astray. Your mind is where your bad decisions will originate. It’s there that you’ll make your worst assumptions and judgments about the motivations of others. Many times, if you’ll corral your thoughts you’ll head off embarrassing and regretful moments. Sometimes, if you’ll stop and think about it, you will see that you are projecting onto someone else things that you know are true about yourself. And it’s quite possible that you may be correct in your judgments, but all that means is that it is a fellow human-being being just that, a human being. Keep grace close at hand.
We are also quite good at conjuring up thoughts about future actions of others that we think they might do. We can become angry in our hearts toward someone for something that they haven’t even done yet, and maybe even won’t do. As I always say, think about what you are thinking about. Catch yourself when you do this and make yourself stop. Let someone at least actually offend you before you become offended.
It’s within your own thought-life that will exist the battlefield where your worst battles will be fought. Memorizing and being familiar with scripture will be your best weapon in this fight.
5. Keep some perspective
We can always ask ourselves the question, “Compared to whom?” No matter what our circumstances, it’s good for us to consider others who have it worse. Things can always get worse or better for us, so a thankful and humble heart is always a good salve. Always work toward something better, and realize that no matter what happens, we are, each of us, one person in the midst of billions, some of whom will always be more or less nicer, personable, meaner, richer, poorer, intelligent, attractive, and so on than you. So don’t think too highly of yourself, nor too lowly. Try your best to realize the truth about yourself, and to be content with God’s providence. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
6. Ask questions, listen to the answers
I once read about a study on social interactions. In the study, they put a group of people together with widely varying levels of income and education in order to study how well they all enjoyed each other’s company. One might assume that the wealthier and more educated people would be drawn to “their own kind.” But the study showed that the one thing that determined whether the interactions were enjoyable or not depended on equal opportunity to speak in a conversation. It seems that the sure-fire way to have been rejected was to talk too much. This, I think, says quite a bit about human relationships. We generally have no need, as persons, to teach ourselves to speak, but we are naturally deficient at listening. And when I say listening, I don’t mean biding your time until it’s your turn to talk, but to listen with interest. Prefer, therefore, to know more about others than to have them know more about you. Be sensitive to how much listening you’re actually doing in social settings.
7. Build others up
The best way to build someone up is to compliment them, and there are a lot of ways to do that very thing. I personally love compliments. They can change my disposition in general, as well as my demeanor, even for a few days. This is true for everyone I believe. But I don’t, on the other hand, love to be patronized. The difference is in sincerity. So train yourself first to admire things in others. Everyone has something to teach you about something. Therefore, as you ask questions, seek to learn new things. Your interest will be a compliment. Ask for advice from someone you respect in a given area. That will be a compliment also. Never be stingy in pointing out things that you appreciate about others. If you look, I think you’ll find that all people have many things about them that deserve sincere compliments. In short, build those up around you.
8. Avoid inferiority and superiority complexes
You will never be the smartest, best looking, richest, nicest and most talented person in any room full of people that you walk into, and you need to know that. But this isn’t only true for you, it’s true for others in the room too. You will have your God-given strengths and your God-given weaknesses. You should make it your business to have some sort of idea of what they are for you so you can become comfortable with them. You will find that your weaknesses are in some ways a gift to others because provide others with an opportunity to shine in their strengths. How does it make you feel when I ask you how to spell a word? Both of you are already better spellers than I am and I know it brings you joy when I ask you to spell a word. That is just a microcosm of the dynamics that happen in relationships. Don’t be threatened if someone near to you is better than you in some way. Learn to be comfortable with who God has made you to be. Learn to be happy for others for the blessings that God has bestowed on them. Don’t ever be jealous.
These are just a few things that I am telling you now that I wish I had known when I was your age. All of them can be referenced to scripture verses, but there is one verse from 1st John that I would have you memorize:
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:16-17)
As I stated earlier, and emphatically restate now, the picture painted by John in this passage is our natural way. It will be a life-long battle waged in your mind if you are ever to overcome your own sinful selves. To the extent that we are ever able to do such a thing is the same extent to which you may perhaps be able to please God and obey His command to love others and build up the Body of Christ.