No. 21



It's been said, if we want to know a lot about a person's character, just watch how he or she acts. But I'm here to tell you, if we really want to know about their character, watch how they react, because this it the real test. In these days of shades and pastels, it's the best way on earth for us to see a person's true colors.

Sometime ago, I ran across a terrific article that was printed in the Readers Digest way back in 1960 titled "Do You Act or React?" and I want to share it with you. As you read it, think about how you would act or react in a similar situation.

"I walked with my friend, a Quaker, to the newsstand the other night and he bought a paper, thanking the newsie politely. The newsie didn't even acknowledge it. 'A sullen fellow, isn't he?', I commented. "Oh, he's that way every night', shrugged my friend. 'Then why do you continue to be so polite to him?', I asked. 'Why not', said my friend, 'Why should I let him decide how I am going to act?'

As I thought about this incident later, it occurred to me the most important word was act. My friend acts toward people; most of us react toward them. He has a sense of inner balance which is lacking in most of us. He knows who he is, what he stands for and how he should behave. He refuses to return incivility for incivility, because then he would no longer be in command of his own conduct.

When we are enjoined in the Bible to return good for evil, we look upon this as a moral injunction, which it is, but it is also a psychological prescription for emotional health. Nobody is unhappier than the perpetual reactor. His center of emotional gravity is not rooted within himself where it belongs, but in the world outside himself. His spiritual temperature is always being raised or lowered by the social climate around him and he is a mere creature at the mercy of these elements. Praise gives him a feeling of euphoria, which is false, because it does not last and it does not come from self-approval. Criticism depresses him more than it should, because it confirms his own secretly shaky opinion of himself. Snubs hurt him and the merest suspicion of unpopularity in any quarter rouses him to bitterness.

A serenity of spirit cannot be achieved until we become the masters of our own actions and attitudes. To let another person determine whether we should be rude or gracious, elated or depressed, is to relinquish control over our personalities, which is ultimately all we possess. The only true possession is self-possession."

As I thought about this article, I realized just how much this affects us every day of our lives. It's not too difficult for most of us to act nice, especially if we had the proper training when we were growing up. But it's just human nature to react to others in a negative way when they are rude, thoughtless or ungrateful toward us.

The Apostle Paul gave us the answer to this problem in Romans 12:2, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

The key to improving our human relations is to renew our thinking each day with good, honest and positive thoughts until it becomes a habit. Then when someone is rude or thoughtless, we will act toward them in a manner that is in theirs, as well as in our own best interests. As George Bernard Shaw once said, "Action is the only road to knowledge." (EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)