BY JUAN LASSO VELASCO
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JACK MYHRE
My father’s work during his time in Colombia took many different forms, yet they all had one key aspect in common: they all involved consistent interaction with other people. My father knew that in order to succeed at his work, he needed to be good at “dealing with people.” It wasn’t very difficult for him to master every tactic he needed to successfully “deal” with others. His workers performed to his expectations and his clients were easily exposed when they tried to cheat money out of him. His work and management skills were the best anyone could ask for. As the Lord began to change my father’s heart, however, it became evident that there was a clear problem with what he was doing.
We have heard the expression many times that “dealing with people” is a good life skill. Yet we hear very little of what this statement really means. It is a phrase that has a much darker meaning than we realize. It is used on websites, in counselor trainings, in classes, and in advising sessions all in the same context: control. Our society has not only promoted the idea that we should exercise control over others, it encourages us to use them in as many scenarios as there are people on earth! “How to deal with difficult people,” “How to deal with angry group members,” “How to deal with demanding college professors,” the list goes on and on. They all echo our attempts to control others. Yet, when we truly think about what that means, it becomes more apparent that these attempts might not be the right approach.
The mindset of controlling others is far more complex than the one in my previous article, so I’m going to be taking a different approach. Simply saying that you aren’t in control of others not only misses the actual problem, it isn’t really true. How people can influence others has not only been shown through the course of human history, but it is also constantly used in today’s society for better or for worse (mostly for worse). So since determining whether you can exert control over others is out of the question, I will focus more on how your influence should be used. It is not that you can’t control others, but more that you ought not to control others.
The Desire to Master Obstacles
Throughout my father’s life in Colombia, he constantly faced challenges that others would throw at him. To him, it seemed as though both his customers and his employees were working against him. It lead my father to associate the people around him with the problems he was facing, which resulted in him seeking to control every aspect of his work, including the people involved. This is a mistake that many of us have fallen into, myself included. It is a misleading idea that not only harms those around us, but hardens our own hearts as well.
Just as you deal with the spider in your room, the world is telling you to “deal” with others as if they are the problem. Our society encourages you to use your influence to “be your own master” by not letting anyone stand in the way of what you wish to do. In many cases you’re even given tips or tricks on how to put others in their place, and in almost every application that place is “out of your way.”
There’s another word for the act of tactically using one’s influence to control others: it’s called manipulation. It is a form of deceit, one thing that the Bible specifically mentions that God hates: “Lying lips are detestable to the Lord, but faithful people are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22).
It is also the defining characteristic of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires… When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
The desire to control others turns people into obstacles. Only something that gets in your way. Only something to be moved aside. In many cases this desire leads us to devalue the human life to just a problem, when really it is much more than that.
A World of People
People are a very special creation. As a Christian, I know this because the almighty Creator Himself says so: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7). He showed His love for His special creation by sending His Son to die for the sins of every person on earth.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). God made us in His own image, so reducing others to obstacles is not only an offense to them, it is an offense to God. He commands us to “be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32) and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). We certainly wouldn’t want to be manipulated by someone else. I doubt that anyone would consider being used as very “kind” or “loving,” especially when they are used to serving the selfish desires of others.
It is a command to all Christians to treat every individual as a life worth valuing, and it should be a challenge to everyone to treat others with kindness and compassion. Not only that, but we can all accomplish this with the very gift that is being used to control others: influence.
The Purpose of Our Influence
The ability to affect people’s lives is a gift given to us by the Lord, and as such Christians should be careful to use it in the right way. Our ability to influence was never meant to be used as a way to manipulate others or use them. It was meant so that we could build them up and have a positive impact on their lives. It is a God-given ability to steer people away from destructive paths and towards a life that honors Christ.
Good influences can be seen on many occasions in history. Think of the many people that used their influence to shape a better future for those who were oppressed. People such as Corrie Ten Boom, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. It is hard to imagine where our world would be if we did not have people who wanted to change the lives of others for the better. A culture that in many ways is trying to control and indoctrinate us today only gives more reasons why we need men and women to use their God-given gifts to impact those around them.
Just like many other aspects of our lives, the Lord gave us the ability to influence others so we might see that without Him, we would easily destroy ourselves. He gave us this gift so that we might realize that we are in desperate need of His strength in order to use it. For a Christian, honoring the Lord is what drives us to help others. It is what motivates every true believer to find ways to serve others instead of use them. This is not a desire we as Christians boast about, because we know that if it were up to us, we would try to control others.
We as humans find comfort in security, and although manipulation isn’t the right way to achieve it, this desire is not unfounded. At times it does seem as though the world is out to get us. There may be, at times, people that are actively seeking to harm us. My father knows this better than anyone, yet he now lives his life with compassion and sincerity all the same. The Lord has shown him that diligently working to serve others does more to curb humanity’s conflicts than any amount of human control will ever achieve.
So instead of thinking of how you can “deal with” others, think of the many ways in which you can serve them. For what more can anyone ask but that “in everything, you would do unto others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).
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