In an email to me from a friend/co-worker from the past, the following was tucked into a concluding paragraph…
“Not sure how to say this tactfully, but when you were on staff here, I saw a lot of “Carl”…”.
My character, more specifically a character deficiency called pride, was exposed. Yikes. Ouch. Yep.
That was a hard assessment to read, but no offense was taken because she was absolutely correct. Any pain brought on by that statement is my own creation, by my own behavior and words and attitude. She was not being accusatory, just reporting the facts. And the fact is, when I consider the time we worked together, I was a fairly self absorbed, self promoting, jerk. She is far too kind (or restrained) to have said exactly that, but I would not fault her for having thought it. Truthfully, there is no “tactful” way for saying that because people like me who wrestle with pride are skilled in dismissing tactful warnings. Following the ellipsis I included in the quote above, she was very complimentary to God’s work in my life she sees today. For that I am grateful for God’s grace. But it did cause me to reflect on what I did/said/thought that would lead her to make that statement. Unfortunately, a lot came to mind, and regrettably, with many people other than her. Too many instances to list, so I categorized them, and thus present to you my checklist for how to become known as self absorbed:
Be a know it all. Make sure you have all the answers. It makes no difference what the topic is. If you don’t have all the answers, be sure to still act and speak as if you do have all the answers. Then, volunteer that information at all the wrong times. Presume that there is no possible way you can be wrong, and deploy airtight and potentially scarring rebuttals when questioned.
Ignore obvious physical signs. Mouths that drop open. Eyes that roll. Eyes that glaze over. Eyes that develop tears. Backs turned to you. Feet carrying the other person away from you. Some would say those actions are evidence that you have offended the person. No,no, no, it means you won the conversation! Congratulate yourself!
Expect people to grow and understand at the same rate. Sure, you affirm and perhaps teach progressive sanctification, but there is really no need to wait for that progress. You should demand it now. It can’t be that unreasonable to think that your vast and varied collection of experiences and education (formal or informal) should not be the pattern that everyone else lives up to. If you get it, then certainly they can get it. If they don’t get it, motivate them with shame and chastisement.
Tuck an accusation into a question. Perhaps out of pity (some would call it self righteousness – but it sounds less pharisaical if you think of it as condescending pity) you back away from shame and chastisement, and instead engage them more in the conversation. There is a way to mix both pity and shame. Ask a question (pity) but make an accusation with it (shame). For example, maybe their child is rebelling in some way. Ask a question like this – “Do you think your child is acting this way because you_____________?” Or, “Did you know that your child would stop doing that if you would just______________?” Two birds, one stone. Done.
Stop asking questions. Asking questions of people gets them to talking about themselves, their ideas, dreams, concerns, and hurts. But, that trivia from someone else’s life gets in the way of your stated goal to exalt yourself. You are giving them time that you should be keeping for yourself. Plus, if you listen to all of that stuff, there is an implicit expectation they have – that you might care. Caring? About someone else? How can you do that and master self absorption? If you would stop asking questions of people, you avoid that tension. Plus, you remember the first item on the list, right? You already know everything, so there is nothing you can learn from that person.
Be aloof. Do you want to guarantee that you will be the center of attention? Make every effort to be aloof. Look dejected, or preoccupied with business. When you go places, look like you couldn’t care less about being there. Stand off from the crowd. Sigh heavily. Practice indifference. Arrive as late as you can, then leave as early as you can. When you leave, seek solitude. Here’s why this works – there are many people in the world who actually care about other people. Your acting like this creates wonder. People will wonder about you, or wonder where you are, or wonder if you are doing okay. What these caring people do is, out of wonder, begin to pursue you. They’ll start to ask you questions. There you go, pal, you are now the center of attention so you can talk about you.
Never question yourself. You have to believe in you. Always. There might be people in your life who hold to some archaic ideal of self examination. They inspect their motives. Sometimes these people invite others to help them check their heart. Don’t be one of those people. Why? Questioning yourself involves some measure of humility. Humility indicates acknowledgement of weakness. It reveals dependence. It introduces the possibility that you might be wrong, or need help. Such things should not mark the life of an individual trying to exalt himself. No cost is too great to achieve being number one. Marriages, children, relationships of all kinds? Secondary issues at best. This is about you. Go get it big guy.
Lord, forgive me for the number of times, and the extravagant ways, I have accomplished this list. Protect me, my heart, and my mind from returning to it. Remind me that the blood of Your Son has freed me from sin, and from myself. Assist me in making my chief concern Your glory, not mine.