Today’s world has reached a curious tipping point. Decisions are made, words are carefully chosen, laws are passed, and protests organized—all because of how someone feels. We often read news accounts of cities or companies creating regulations that, in effect, restrict the freedoms of thousands of people in order to safeguard the feelings of only a few. It is undeniable…we now live in a society that has become obsessed with feelings.
Our extreme emphasis on feelings is obvious to the most casual observer. The truth about the danger that emphasis represents, however, is less obvious. Incredibly, an excessive focus on “feelings” threatens the basic understanding of opportunity and success one must have in order to create the lives we desire for our families and the futures of our children!
For the truth is this: No one really cares how you feel anyway. They only care how you act.
Think about it… From the time you were a child, not a single good thing happened in your life because of how you felt. The kid who liked you, the teacher who gave you the benefit of the doubt, the businessperson who offered the opportunity to you instead of to someone else…all these things occurred because of how you acted.
This is part of the reason we teach our children manners. We know that when our child is an adult and he or she competes for a job against a person who has lousy manners, at that moment, our child is infinitely more employable, no matter how anyone feels.
Consider a situation that presented itself a couple of years ago in our hometown…
The morning had unfolded into a beautiful day. The spring sunshine had settled the temperature at a comfortable 75 degrees. I was wearing shorts and Adam, our son who was eight years old at the time, had a hotdog in his hand and mustard on his chin. Polly was chatting with the other moms and Mrs. Cleere, Austin’s favorite teacher in the entire world, who had come to see him play second base.
Earlier, we had all enjoyed the parade as every Little League team in our town had been ferried from city hall to the ball fields. The kids were in full uniform, piled on the Orange Beach fire truck or in a coach’s boat or maybe some dad’s work trailer that was being towed behind a car.
It was Opening Day. The boys and girls teams were presented on the main field and we cheered as they were introduced, each stepping forward with a tip of the hat. The press was dutifully covering the event. Wednesday, every parent would search for their child’s face in the grainy photographs sure to be included in the next edition of The Islander (which is published twice a week).
At the time, I suppose I was thinking about the atmosphere, or Adam’s mysterious ability to cover himself in mustard, or the friends around me. In any case, I briefly lost track of the action, but a roar from the crowd returned my focus. As I looked, a runner slid across home plate, the catcher applied the tag, and the umpire called, “He’s out!”
Then, as if it had a mind of its own, the ball dribbled away from the confusion at the plate.
“He dropped it,” we yelled and pointed. “The catcher dropped the ball!” (Alert readers have already noticed the “we” used previously and determined that the runner was one of the Orange Beach Braves—our team).
Even the runner, when he got to his feet, pointed to the ball which had by now rolled all the way to the backstop. “He dropped it,” our runner said.
“He’s safe!” the crowd shouted. “The runner’s safe!”
But the umpire held up his fist. “Out!” he declared again. And with that decision confirmed, the skinny runner trotted back to the dugout and into the encouraging arms of his 11- and 12-year-old buddies. Standing beside third base, our coach had questioned the call once, received the umpire’s final decision and, although he disagreed, was now clapping his hands together for the next batter. His body language told the team, Let’s move on.
The crowd of mostly parents grumbled briefly then settled to watch the rest of the game.
“HEY!” The loud cry came from our side of the fence. All eyes turned to a man who, with his loud voice and angry presence, literally stopped the game. For the next few minutes, this man (not even the father of the runner) screamed, recited rules, and used vulgar language in front of our kids to berate an umpire who had volunteered to be a part of our children’s lives as they work their way to the adulthood of which we have become their only example.
And sure enough, that unfortunate moment put adulthood on brassy display for our kids and some other kids as well because, as you might imagine, the scene drew a crowd. And people listened to every word. So did Adam, our eight-year-old.
When the man’s tirade was finally stopped, I was extremely aware that my eight-year-old boy had seen and heard everything. Curiously however, Adam ignored the cursing and went in another direction. “Dad,” he started, “was he safe?”
“Yes,” I answered, not sure where this was going, “he was safe because the catcher dropped the ball.”
“But the umpire called him out,” Adam noted.
“Yes, he did,” I confirmed.
“But that’s not fair,” Adam stated a bit louder. “If he was safe and the umpire said he’s out…then that’s not fair.”
I paused for a moment before turning to focus all my attention on my youngest son. “Adam,” I began, “the runner was safe. The umpire called him out. You are correct. It is not fair. But here is something you need to learn quickly: Life is not fair…and it is how you react when bad things happen that will largely determine how far you go in life.”
“You see, buddy,” I continued, “everyone is nice and friendly when things are going their way, but how a person acts when things don’t go their way reveals to everyone else how that person manages to handle tense situations. Do you understand?”
“Not really,” Adam said, forcing me to remember that many adults didn’t understand this connection either.
“Okay buddy,” I said as I looked deeply into his clear blue eyes and gathered myself for another attempt at explanation. Regardless of the many things going on around us at the moment, I knew these next few words had the potential to make a massive difference in the life of my boy. All of a sudden, I was actually grateful the situation had presented itself.
“Adam,” I began, “do you know why mom and I insist that you say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ and ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am’? Do you know why we make you and Austin practice shaking hands and looking people in the eye and smiling while you talk?”
“Because you want people to think we’re good?” he said as I stifled a laugh.
“No,” I responded. “We want you to do those things and act that way because we want people to think you are great. Not good. Great. Listen carefully, buddy. Don’t ever forget this… People are making decisions about what they will do with you or what they won’t do with you, every single day.
“Everyone is watching everyone. Some folks get great jobs because of how they act. And some folks will not be hired because of how they acted six months ago in the grocery store or at a traffic light or in another situation that had nothing to do with the job. People attract or repel opportunity in every form—every day—simply by the way they act.”
I paused, holding his gaze. “Do you get it?” I asked.
“Yes sir,” Adam said. “This is kinda like when you told me and Austin that if we argue about who gets the biggest cookie, it takes Mama’s joy away from making cookies. And if she doesn’t enjoy making them, she won’t make them. Which means we control the cookie flow by how we act. Right?”
“Adam,” I said as we turned back to the game, “that’s it. That is the very thing I want you to remember: In every part of your life, for the rest of your life…by the way you choose to act, YOU are the one who controls your cookie flow!”
Knowing that the quality of your answers will be determined by the quality of your questions, let’s ask some good ones…
1) You are now hiring a person who represents you to the public. This person will represent your family and everything you’ve worked for your entire life. Grouping together all the people you know, can you mentally list the ones who would be near the top of the list simply because you enjoy being around them? Who would be first on the list? Can you list the people you’d never hire in a million years? Who would be first on that list? Now, how much does “how they act” have to do with where they landed on your list?
2) On a scale of 1 to 10, how are the cookies flowing in your life right now?
3) Are there things you have done in the past, or “ways you have acted” in certain situations, that might have caused people to move you down on their list of folks to hire or share an opportunity with?
4) In what ways might you immediately “get ahold of yourself” and change your behavior into that of a person who projects calm, self control, and a sense of humor?
5) What larger behaviors (such as reading specific books) might you impose into your life right now to begin shaping the smaller behaviors (how you act) into a person that everyone looks at with warm feelings and great value?