36 for 36…

Peanuts on the Dock

Today is my 36th birthday.  Here are 36 things I’ve learned over the course of my lifetime in no particular order, with nods to those of you who’ve helped me realize these things — you know who you are!   Stay tuned in April for the return of the Interviews with Spiritual Heroes series!

  1. There is no way to avoid screwing up my kids. It is a question of degrees.
  2. Being oriented to life primarily around “right vs. wrong” was sufficient to get me through childhood. As an adult, a better way to think about most situations is, “Is what I am doing/about to do consistent with the kind of person I want to be?”
  3. I believe God exists. It is a belief. That admission doesn’t make it false anymore than it makes it true.
  4. I should be careful asking people I usually help to give me help in return. It usually doesn’t work well. Better to let my asking and my giving flow in opposite directions.
  5. Most people want to help me in a way that is convenient for them, not me. Those who truly help in the way I need it and in a manner that is easy for me to access are a rare gift.
  6. When I go to church (or anywhere, really), I shouldn’t check my brain at the door with my coat.
  7. Allowing myself to really admire people makes me vulnerable, but tends to pay enormous dividends in that I get to become like them.  Allowing myself to really hate people also makes me vulnerable, but pays no dividends, because I become just like them.
  8. Anxiety is not always bad in that it provides me a sense of urgency and some of the necessary drive to get things done, but beyond that, it is unhelpful and largely a product of my own dysfunctional thinking. When I am anxious, I should ask, “What have I been telling myself?” More often than not, I have been saying things that are both untrue and irrational. If I would like to feel better, I must think better.
  9. That which does not kill me doesn’t necessarily make me stronger. In fact, it may wound me so deeply that death would be a preferable option. If I allow such wounds to fester and boil, they are likely to impede me greatly over the course of my lifetime.
  10. Worrying about money does not make me have any more of it.
  11. More often than not, there is no way around my problems. I must go through them, struggle and fight though I may.  The best help is the kind that recognizes this and spends as much time helping me ask what is to be learned from my troubles as it does trying to help me avoid them.
  12. I should not rebuke a fool according to his folly.
  13. All kinds of things will tempt me to be upset. I must pick and choose which things are worthy of my attention. Some definitely are. Some definitely are not. Both of them will tell me they are.
  14. People will wrong me – this is inevitable. This includes my family, friends, spouse, children, employers, church, school, and more. Pretending as though this is not the case does not make it so. However, living as though my relationships with these individuals and institutions are singly defined by wrongs is in error.
  15. It is better not to give advice, because I genuinely lack the insight to know what other people should do. I only know what I have done and to what degree it has worked for me. There is a difference.
  16. In these United States, I was afforded a much larger margin for error in life by virtue of the notion that I am male, Caucasian, and from a two-parent home and a family of some means. I do a great disservice to those I am trying to help if I do not consider that these things may not be true for them.
  17. Those caught up in (e.g., employed by, going to church in, etc.) dysfunctional systems are often very good people. They are capable of responding to me in line with their good character, so long as our interaction does not come at their intersection with the dysfunctional system. When I force them to choose between a healthy response to me and a dysfunctional systemic response, however, the system always wins.
  18. Compassion is difficult because it requires me to sit with others brokenness, rather than to fix it or flee from it.
  19. Most errors in assessing my happiness come when I compare my insides to others’ outsides.
  20. People are weird about sex and money.
  21. I am no more defined by my mistakes or flaws than I am my successes or strengths. I am more than the sum of my experiences and abilities.
  22. A soft answer turns away a wrathful response, but a wrathful person is probably better avoided altogether.
  23. When motivating people to do what I want by kicking them in the rear, the main problem is that the next time I will have to kick them in the rear again. This is also the implicit problem in motivating myself with negative talk, guilt, and shame.
  24. It’s all okay. Even if it isn’t okay, that’s okay.
  25. Living in community with others is wonderful. Living in community with others is terrible.
  26. It is rarely counterproductive to be genuinely kind to someone.
  27. I should hire employees fully anticipating that they will one day leave, and I should bless them and help them as they walk out the door. They are the best source of word-of-mouth referrals I’ll ever have.
  28. Employers and institutions always have mixed motivations for me – this isn’t hidden or sinister. They need me to do something for them – you know, like my job — in exchange for something I need — you know, like money. I shouldn’t expect them to altruistically look out for my interests.
  29. It takes more work to catch people in the act of doing good things because by definition, most good things go unnoticed until someone fails to do them. But if I can catch people doing good things, I should praise them. This is easier than correcting them for doing the wrong thing.
  30. A clean conscience makes life much easier in the long-run, but trying to keep one makes life harder in the short-run.
  31. I’m not going to always be able to give my best.
  32. I should be wary of the person who tells me they got into a particular profession to help other people but not him or herself. They are either lying or dangerously self-ignorant.
  33. There are two kinds of pain in life. There is a pain which is fruitless and akin to self-sabotage. It is borne of stubbornness, willful rejection of good sense, and/or stupidity. But there is also a pain that bears fruit, and it is borne of humility, (self-) honesty, and willingness to suffer correction and rebuke. But make no mistake – it is painful either way.
  34. There are no formulas for most matters involving the human heart. If I become convinced that a formula will always work, I have probably not considered all of the variables. But I should write a book, because people love formulas.
  35. If I look around the room and everyone I see is an ass, I am likely the one with the problem.
  36. Forgiveness is probably the single-most necessary ingredient in relationships.  I would be bitter and alone without it, for I have needed it much.  Not just for what I have done, but for who I am.


 Peanuts image used under creative common license from Peanuts.wikia.com.

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Author: Ryan Thomas Neace

Ryan Thomas Neace is a counselor, professor, husband, and daddy. Please contact him for counseling via skype or in-person at ryan@changeincorporated.org.

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