I was watching the International Track and Field Event this past weekend from Oslo, Norway. In my view, there is no more raw and honest sporting event than head to head track events, where you must leave it all on the track each time you race. I find it one of the most interesting sporting events to watch.
As I watched it reminded me of the race that Paul talked about often in his writings, the one where we are to throw aside every incumbrance we can, and to keep our eye on the prize that is set before us. As the Oslo racing events rolled over to the hurdles, I thought of how many people place their own hurdles on the track – hurdles that slow them down and hinder them from completing the course in a faster time. If you can imagine a race where some of the racers have only empty track in from of them, while others in the race are jumping hurdles, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize who is going to win. On the 100-meter track, the time difference between the sprint and the hurdles is close to three seconds, or 30%.
So, what are these hurdles that we so commonly place in our path? Well, of course they take many forms but the more common ones we see relate to interpersonal matters. I spent some time thinking about the 10 most common personality traits that I admire and then afterward I looked up what were considered the most common universally accepted traits on the web. As I expected, there really were very few differences between my list and the more “universal” lists that I found.
Inherently we know this because we all seem to like the same people – those who are selfless, kind, compassionate, sincere, thoughtful, witty and generous. At the same time, we know those traits that become the hurdles that so many place in the path of their race. People hold onto these negative traits believing that they get them further ahead, and yes they do often in the short term, but…
We all know of people who cheated on their college exams, or stole things they could not afford, and often this leaves us wondering why they are getting away with things that they should not be. However, we only see the short-term effect, and then we forget about them, not realizing that it will be later that they pay the price for their decision – often much later on in their lives.
As I thought through this analogy of life being a race, I came to ponder how some negative traits automatically come rolled up with one another. Can you imagine running a race where there are two hurdles close together? This of course would naturally lead to the racer falling, if not physically, then at least metaphorically in the eyes of others. Let me give some examples of such double hurdles.
Take the twin traits of “rude and arrogant”. It is rare to hear one mentioned without the other also being attached. This is because when we see one of them on display, we normally assume the other one is true of the person, even if we don’t see it displayed in their character at the time. Another common double trait is “loud and obnoxious”. We simply need to be near a loud person in a public space and we automatically assume that the second trait is also true of them. Having traveled to more than one third of the world’s nations I can say with conviction that there is likely not a more commonly disliked trait than loudness, and it is almost universally attached to being obnoxious, a word that few of us would want to have connected to us if we gave it any thought.
Other double negative traits I was able to think of where “dishonest and unreliable” or “late and self-centered”. These are not as common, but they are still often linked together.
Just as there are double negative traits, there are also well-known double positive traits. How about “kind and gentle”, “patient and thoughtful”, or “prompt and reliable”? Showing just one of the two traits often moves us ahead in the eyes of others at double the speed than just one normal trait would.
So why do we so often hold onto these double negatives, when they so obviously weigh us down?
Well one common reason is that they are tolerated by our subgroup, or our nation, as a whole. Even though they are universally looked down on, if our nation or group collectively has this trait, then it is likely that we will also.
Another reason is that we are short-sighted as humans. We think that there really are actual short cuts to getting ahead, when the Bible is very clear that they are only illusions, that in the end will only weigh us down and place a hurdle in our way.
The last reason that I could think of is the saddest, we have them simply because we are lazy. For this there is little remedy.
So, what about us?
Have you taken stock of how others perceive you recently? Doing so many be the most important step you will take to throwing of those encumbrances that Paul was talking about.