How Do We Maneuver the People Around Us?

I can picture you reading that title and asking, "Who, me?"

Yes, you. And me. And everybody else.

It was a new thought to me, too, until I met "Jim." Our long-ago friend had no degree, but he was a specialist in understanding people. I still hear him saying one of his favorite gems that summed up what makes us humans tick: 

  "Nobody does nothin' for nothin.'"

That's a folksy way of saying every one of us gets some kind of payback from what we do. Or don't do. 

Every time Jim said that people within hearing distance would say, "Hmm. Never thought of it that way."

And just that simply, he nailed it. No more discussion needed.

Children love to show us this theory in action

Blog. mother-child-discipline-small. 6.09

You don't believe it? Well, consider how kids so often disobey in what their parents or caregivers would call the most "in your face" ways to do so. If you've ever watched one of these performances you might think this child is asking to get in trouble. 

Maybe they are.

That's one sure way they can get attention from their parents or other adults.

Here's a truth worth pondering: For a child, negative attention beats no attention every time.  

Just widen the circle of your thinking to include grownups and it's apparent that we are not so different.

Think how often it's hard to puzzle out a person's motives. We may wonder, Why does he (or she) always do that? What makes her (or him) talk like that?

Then think of Jim's "principle of human motivation."

Ask yourself what kind of payback this person may be getting

It may be a way to get a response. Concern. Sympathy. Offers of help. They may not be aware of it consciously, but it can be a way to exert control without seeming to.

Somehow Jim's down-home wisdom makes the issues clear. 

Most of us know a big part of understanding people is to look deeper than the surface and perhaps, even "walk a mile in their shoes."  

That can change what we think, just as this line from Scottish poet Robert Burns said when he wrote--in 1786:

"O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us."

I found a modern translation, with another line added--sorry, I don't remember who wrote this, but it speaks truth:

Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!

It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion . . . .

Over time Jim's maxim raised my understanding level

First I learned to consider: What is he or she getting out of this behavior? (Or out of saying that?)

Then came the real breakthrough. I started asking myself: What am I getting out of saying or doing this?


That question quickly clears away any delusion that my motives are always pure and flow from my good heart.

It keeps me honest with myself and points me to a better way of thinking. 

And that's a good thing.

Don't get me wrong 

"Paybacks" are not all negative. Who among us is so noble that we keep on and keep on endlessly without some sort of reward?

For instance, when I treat you right, you're more likely to return the same to me. That's a reward worth having.

I've never forgotten our old friend's saying. Psychological truths about human motivation and behaviors abound. Jim's simple words clear away all the murk and help me think things through, about myself and about others.

I don't know about you, but I think human beings are endlessly fascinating. NASA can explore the dark side of the moon or life on Mars if they want to. For the rest of us, a greater mission might be to explore our own inner space and know ourselves better.

While we're exploring, let's pray for discerning hearts as well, and let's be kind to each other.  

A mini-course in human relations from the Apostle Paul:

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.    Colossians 3:12-14  ESV

Thanks for stopping by and hope you were blessed!



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