In junior high and high school I wanted to be seen as the best. In cases where I encountered real competition, I found it was usually easier to make my competition look bad than it was to put in the work and make myself better. My friend Melissa was the first person really close to me to call me on it. I had placed below another flute player for all-county band. And, of course, I talked badly about said flute player, who happened to be in the school band with Melissa (I was at a different school). Melissa jumped my case and for one of the few times I can remember, she was so angry she was screaming. I completely deserved it, but shrugged it off as just a “Melissa thing.” Ultimately, it was something that pretty much ended our friendship. But it was a long time, college, in fact, before I learned my lesson.
Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. – Genesis 4:4-5, NASB
Cain and Abel both brought offerings to God, but only Abel’s was found acceptable. We won’t debate the whys, just accept the fact that Cain’s offering wasn’t satisfactory. God then pulled Cain aside and explained to Cain that all he had to do was bring what he knew was acceptable. This tells us Cain knew the standard, and that he hadn’t met it. However, rather than work a little harder and do the right thing, Cain went after Abel.
Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. – Genesis 4:8, NASB
This is similar to the example I gave from my own life. While Cain’s ended a whole lot bloodier, the thought pattern was the same: get rid of the competition and I’ll look fine. It’s something the world embraces rather well, though we try and deny it. After all, look at how political campaigns are now run. Most of the time it’s not about whose ideas are better. Rather, it’s about which candidate looks less slimy as compared to his or her opponent. Folks are paid a lot of money to dig up unfavorable information on opposing candidates. People specialize in taking any information and “spinning” it so that it leaves a bad impression on the public. And the bad thing is, for the most part it works. The numbers show it. This negative campaigning, this tearing down of an opponent to look better, influences our vote towards the candidate who has less bad press, regardless of whether we understand where the candidates stand on key issues or not.
I was talking with a friend and professional colleague about his experiences as a manager over a technical team. A member of another technical team continued to hold on to a job for a long time by repeated casting blame for his own failures on my friend’s team. The bad thing is that for a while it worked because no one actually verified the facts. It did finally catch up with that person, but not until after he collected a lot of paychecks. So it works for the “regular guy,” too.
But this isn’t the way God would have us respond to one another. It’s a self-centered response to protect or promote ourselves by attacking another person. It’s not about improving ourselves. It’s about promoting a poor image of another person. Maybe it’s factual. But that’s not relevant. What is relevant is we’re tearing down another person. And that’s not something God is ever going to accept. That’s not putting the other person first. That’s not loving that other person as we love ourselves. After all, if the situation were reversed, we would be upset. We don’t want to be treated that way. And given that, we shouldn’t treat others that way, either.
If we feel we don’t measure up, the solution isn’t to tear down others. The first thing to do is admit the truth. We need to admit it to ourselves and to others who are impacted by it. The second thing is to look at how we might improve things. If we need to work harder or make something a priority, then that’s what we should do. But what if we’re not good enough and we’re not going to be good enough? For instance, there were a lot of great football players who were cut over the last few weeks that will never make the NFL. They can work as hard as they want, but they just don’t have what it takes. So they’ll continue to be cut, and they realize it. What then? We remain a champion of the truth. And we make the best of it. If that means we don’t get the job, like those who didn’t make the cut in the NFL, we accept reality. And then we look to do something else. But we never ever abandon the truth. And we never bring down others around us. We never attack them to make ourselves look better. Our God sees us for who we really are. So there’s no point. And those close to us will know the truth, too. If they truly care about us, they’ll accept that truth. And if it’s about a lack of effort or focus, they’ll encourage us (and get on our case if we need that) to do better. After all, we should always seek to the following:
But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Hebrews 3:13, NASB