Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Four Reasons to Not Be “That Kind of Person” (Part 1)

Has anyone ever told you what kind of person he or she is? I mean, just flat out announced what he or she wants you to believe to be true about himself or herself? Have you ever known that kind of person?

What kind of person?  

The kind of person who says, “I am the kind of person who . . .” and then finishes with something self-complementary:

  • “I am the kind of person who gives to others”
  • "I am the kind of person who tells it like it is.”
  • "I am a very spiritual kind of person."
  • "I am very deep thinker."
  • "If I really believe in something, I am the kind of person who will fight for it."

Some friends and family have a sort of running joke that capitalizes on the unseemliness of such self-pronouncements. If one of us compliments another for doing something for them, we will jokingly respond with something like, “Oh, it’s nothing.  That’s just the kind of person I am: I'm a giver.”  The other person usually rolls his eyes.

If you have heard people speak a similar expression, you may have let it pass without much thought. It is, after all, common enough. Much of the time the expression seems innocuous. But if you are like me (I am just that kind of person), it occasionally strikes you as off-kilter and out of sorts in an indefinable way, though you may have been too polite to say anything at the time. Sometimes we see it in its more extreme forms: we all know at least one person whose every interaction barely hides the bald need to impress, a person whose braggadocio almost seems pathological, who's a perpetual "one-upper."  

From time to time I have been the kind of person who says, “I am the kind of person who . . . .” It is for that reason that I know there is something off-kilter about it, something ugly and out of sorts and indefinable. Because I am that kind of person, I know from personal experience why I do not want to be that kind of person. If you, on the other hand, are telling yourself that you are not "that kind of person," I am happy for you, but don't say it too loud or you'll break the illusion. You are welcome to listen while I preach to myself. I am the kind of person who wants to sort it out and define it.

To be “that kind of person” reveals what I value, or at least what I think should be valued.

Sometimes what people pronounce to be true of themselves is a truly noble thing, but more often it is not.  If it is truly noble, the need to tell others immediately diminishes it with the unseemliness of self-righteousness.  Jesus taught that it is not noble to publicly announce oneself to be a giving person (Matthew 6:1-4).  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  Sometimes this ignoble nobility takes a different but still familiar form: “I need to start putting myself first. I spend so much time doing things for others that I never take time to do things for myself” (cue adoring late-night-talk-show audience applause).  Such a statement not-so-subtly reveals that the person values being valued as a giver as much or more than the value of giving itself.

More often, however, what people pronounce to be true of themselves is not really that noble after all. Take the example of “I am the kind of person who will tell you to your face.”  What that person probably means is that they boldly express their opinions even when people won’t like it. At best, such a statement commends one’s own courage (that ignoble nobility already dispensed with above). At worst, it reveals a lack of concern for speaking the truth in love.  If true, it may imply indiscretion and a propensity to run roughshod over others opinions and beliefs without gentle consideration. Loudmouthed critics who do not know how to speak with grace are not noble.   To be “that kind of person” may reveal values that contradict Christian values. 

To be “that kind of person” reveals that I might be self-deceived.

On the face of it, the statement "I am the kind of person who . . ." purports to reveal what the person thinks of himself, to reveal a sort of intimate self-knowledge.But besides the unseemliness of voicing such an opinion, it runs the risk of being very inaccurate and perhaps even hypocritical.

None of us are as noble as we think we are.  On the contrary, we tend to grossly overestimate our nobility. Depravity tends to think more highly of itself than it deserves to think. It is self confident, pleased with itself.  Unfortunately, in our natural state we seldom have a full and accurate picture of the true self. According to Paul, our natural tendency is to suppress what we know to be true about God and ourselves. We tend to lift the created thing up into the place of worship, displacing God’s righteousness with our opinions of ourselves.  We often see ourselves as good enough as is, good enough to parade our positive self-opinions before others.

But the simple truth is that we are not what we want to be, especially if we have to say it out loud to others.  If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that we wage an internal war between what we want ourselves to be and what we actually are.  Our consciences either accuse us or excuse us, revealing that deep inside, we are not what we ought to be or want to be.

If we purport to be noble by proclaiming ourselves “to be that kind of person,” we also reveal a fundamental hypocrisy--pretending to be one thing, while actually being very different deep down inside. No doubt, the next step is standing in judgment of others for not being what you claim yourself to be, all while actually being and doing the very same things you condemn in them.  People who are “ that kind of person” might not know themselves as well as they claim.  Or they might know themselves too well, which explains their need to say one thing, while being another.

To be continued soon.

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