By Allan R. Handysides
I was walking across the parking lot to the hospital when I saw a police cordon blocking the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians such as myself to walk around to the other hospital entrance. As I took the detour I noticed children from the school, where my sister was the elementary school principal, walking around the cordoned-off area on their way to school. Then, to my amazement a young woman in school uniform, but from the high school, walked up to the yellow plastic barrier, grabbed it in her hands, and ripped it apart. She then walked directly through the forbidden area.
As she neared to stride past me, I touched her on the shoulder. “Take your hands off me!” she shouted. “Don’t touch me!” The anger in her eyes and the contempt with which she looked at me spoke volumes. She had what is often called an attitude.
We all have “attitude”— whether we are conscious of it or not. The question is what kind of attitude?
Several words are similar to attitude. I think of altitude—one’s height in relation to sea level. Latitude and longitude—one’s position in relation to the grid constructed to map the world.
With these three words in mind we can see that attitude is the position from which we relate to the world—a mind-set point, if you will. As individuals, our attitude determines life’s balance. We see the world revolving, often, around our mind-set. Attitude is the point of view from which we integrate all of our relationships. Attitude is the tone that colors our life—and often the lives of our friends.
Once at the Washington-Dulles airport I watched a huge crane at work.
It had a tall central column, and pivoting around a point near its summit it swung loads from one place to another. The hook hung from a transverse beam; a counter-balancing weight hung from the opposite side of the beam. All activity and force centered on this fulcrum point.
As I watched, I thought how crucial the balancing point was to the crane. In a similar way our attitude is a balance point. Our mind-set—or attitude, if you wish—is as crucial to our daily functioning as the pivotal point is to the crane.
Attitude governs the scope of our influence, the radius of our reach. Our ability to carry life’s burdens depends upon our lives being in balance. We measure our relationships with others and our assessment of their mind-set by reference to our own. In politics we hear talk of right and left wing—but in reference to what? We hear others judged as conservative or liberal—but such categorization is referenced to the mindset of the observer.
As a youngster I remember watching a movie called The Dam Busters. It told the story of how the Royal Air Force sought to destroy German industrial capability by bombing and thus breaking open Germany’s dams. Lacking the sophisticated equipment of today, they worked out a simple solution. They were able to fix two spotlights on the undercarriage of their bombers, and by bringing the two spotlights to convergence they could accurately set their sights above the water of the dam. And by calculating the speed, height, and bounce of a bomb over the water when dropped from this predetermined height, they were able to calculate the point at which the bombs should be released.
Those spotlights demarcated the point from which a calculated action would commence.
Spotlights of Attitude
As I considered spotlights, I had the thought that some spotlights illuminate our attitude. Considering it further, I found four that I believe are of great importance in defining the unique attitude each of us has.
Thought Patterns: This spotlight relates to our way of thinking: the pattern of thought, the content of thought, the quality of our thoughts.
Self-Evaluation: The second is our level of self-appreciation, our concept of self-worth, how much we value our own lives.
Valuation of Others: The third is the value we assign to the lives of others—their hopes, joys, and sorrows.
Belief in a Higher Power: The fourth spotlight illuminating our attitude relates to our belief in a higher power, to our connection with God.
We are taught how to think. Much of our appreciation of the world around us is learned from those who teach us—our parents, siblings, and other family members. We learn cause and effect—that fire burns and cold stings. We can learn to be cynical or learn to be loving. Our thought patterns reflect the nurturing we received—or our lack of it. It is important to recognize that the way we think often reflects the thinking patterns of our parents and extended family, the schools we attended, and the society around us. Of course, we have innate intellectual abilities and personality traits, but though these influence our emotional thought patterns and possibly the appeal of some concepts, to a large extent we reflect the thinking of our peers. Our early lives definitely shape the person we will become.
When used by mind controlling regimes such as fascist or communist control groups, brainwashing can change a person’s thought patterns.
You and I can readily move into extreme positions if we follow unbalanced thought processes. It was Dwight Eisenhower who observed that the extreme positions taken in debate are never correct. When we find ourselves in the extreme, we should carefully analyze our thought processes to see whether we are, in fact, projecting an unbalanced attitude because of learned patterns of thinking.
We need to have balanced thinking. We need to practice abandonment of pride, arrogance, and control of others and be filled with compassion for the suffering,
Remember that both fatigue and boredom can cause us to think and do things we normally would not. If we are serious about having a mind like that of Jesus we’ll also avoid overeating, in fact, overindulgence in anything, for these can change the brain’s neurochemical balance.
And no matter how balanced we usually are, we can fall into the trap of obsessing about something that worries us. We can dissect a situation down to a hundred terrible “what-ifs,” making it impossible to truly see the whole.
Ancient philosophers learned the power of fasting—the clarity of thought that comes when the mind is freed from the chemical bombardment of food. It’s something to consider when you are wrestling with a puzzling problem.
And though this probably is not you, millions today alter their brain’s chemistry with drugs, including the legal ones such as tobacco and alcohol. We may think it’s easy to change our thought patterns, but many recovering addicts find, to their chagrin, that their drug use has altered neuronal pathways. This is particularly true for young adults and children.
Our second determinant of attitude is how we value ourselves. This too is learned. Psychologists tell us that by age 3 most children have learned a sense of self-worth. It is extremely important for you to value yourself. If you don’t value yourself, you will have no motivation to take care of yourself, your body, soul, or spirit. And if you don’t value yourself, it is very difficult for you to accept the infinite value God has placed on your life!
But thinking too much of yourself will make you arrogant and proud, perhaps willful and demanding. Your relationships with others may not be give and take, but only take. People who are unable to give don’t always recognize the work others do for them. It becomes second nature to blame all of life’s difficulties on the deficiencies of others, never for a moment believing they could ever be responsible. It goes without saying that people like this are difficult to love.
At the other extreme are those who feel so utterly hopeless, so worthless, that they are unable to accept love. Sometimes they construct, from their pain, a shell of protection, and so are perceived as prickly and hard to work with. They may build themselves up by pulling others down, yet they never seem to achieve success—surely nothing that satisfies them. Because realistic self-worth is learned, and because self-absorption is often a distortion of reality, the attitudes of those at either extreme are often distorted and unrealistic.
However, there is a solution.
I recognize myself there, don’t you? If we can only appreciate that we are valued by Jesus, we will lose the self-doubt and the artificial crutches of arrogance and pride. We will lose the need to correct others, to be seen as knowing so much, and the desire to be important in the eyes of others. Why? Because we are important to Jesus.
Valuation of Others
The third spotlight upon our attitude is the value we bestow to others—or lack of it. Of course, often we are unaware of our behavior and the way we come across to others. That happened to me not long ago.