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Missing the point

Jon Acuff  is a big encourager.  That’s what he does professionally. He writes and speaks on how to dream big and accomplish your goals. It’s pretty cool. One way to encourage people is through stories and analogies. Like this one.

Did you read it? It’s a great story to illustrated a point: set crazy, outside the box goals.

Acuff also works for Dave Ramsey, Slayer-of-Debt.  This is relevant to the story. Trust me.

So, the crazy goal guy in Acuff’s story says, “We broke even. It didn’t make any money, but the goal wasn’t to make money. The goal was to be awesome. And it was!”

Just to make sure you get the point, Acuff restates it, “The goal was to be awesome.”

This is the point of this very short post on crazy goals, it’s about making goals like “be awesome.” That’s the point. Got it? It’s a short post with a different take on goals: a snapshot, not a feature film.

For some reason, I scrolled down to the comments (which is always a risk on bigger blogs and dangerous on media sites. It will make you lose your faith in humanity, if you had any left.)

Writes a commenter:, “‘Breaking even’ isn’t awesome. It’s broke. Come on Jon. You can do better than this.”

Oh, sweetheart, did you ever miss the point. Your goal was obviously not “to be awesome.”

Let’s look at another story from a preacher:

“There was a judge who feared neither God nor man.  A widow had a case against a neighbor and went to the judge again and again and again in an effort to get justice. The judge wouldn’t listen to the woman at first.  But after a while, although he didn’t really care if she received justice or not, he said ‘I’ll give her justice just to shut her up.’ How much more will a Just God listen to our pleas and give us justice speedily.”

Can you imagine all the ways this story can be criticized? “So what you’re saying is the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and that’s good?” “Aren’t we supposed to turn the other cheek and forgive.” “Well what about the next widow? Who will make sure her case is heard?” “How dare you compare God to that evil man!” But the point of the preacher, aka Jesus, is “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” That’s the very definition of a parable: a short story to illustrate a point. It’s not a comprehensive theological statement.

I’ve seen this in my own experiences. I’ll write a post or put a link out in the wild with a bit of commentary, and get “But what about x?” push back. Generally, X is the furthest thing from my mind and maybe vaguely related to the topic at hand. But although it may not be relevant to the post, but is very relevant to the person who gives the push back.

I get that. We all have our lenses we view life through. I’ve got the mommy lens, the Christian lens, the homeschool lens,  the Texan lens. Trust me, I understand the lenses. But the problem with all those lenses is we don’t realize that we need to take them off, or at least adjust for them in order to understand what the author is trying to say. And as a writer, you start offering caveats and exceptions with every sentence, which makes for very tedious writing indeed.

It would be more helpful if as readers we came to the material with an attempt to understand what the author is trying to say. We must first “come to terms with the author” as Mortimer Adler instructs in his classic work How to Read a Book. That means understand what the author is trying to say and not trying to say, among other criteria.  This applies to any type of communication: books, videos, blog posts, tweets, or Facebook statuses. If we engage the author on the point he is making, we will have a much more fruitful experience.

I think, though, we aren’t always (usually?) looking for fruitful experiences. In the first example, Acuff really wasn’t trying to communicate anything about the details of finances and goals. He was encouraging people to set “crazy goals.”  If you are familiar with his employer and the rest of his work–as the commenter appeared to be–surely you understand that he isn’t advocating debt. Why tilt at that particular windmill?

While I can’t speak to that particular commenter’s motivations, I think sometimes we get our lenses so firmly affixed we can’t take them off.  Our perspective is perpetually skewed, like the Emerald City in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz where everything looks green because the inhabitants are made to wear green glasses. Take off the glasses and everything changes. So maybe our commenter just has her “debt is bad” lenses so firmly affixed she missed the point that this particularly vignette didn’t really speak to the issue of debt.

There’s another, less kind, explanation for the “let me show you where you’re wrong” crowd. They are the smartest, rightest, most discerning people they know. They just have to comment on every topic on which they have even the slightest knowledge. And frankly, all they need to hear from you is, “You were right, I was wrong.” Honest debate and exchange of ideas are not wanted. The suggestion that they might change their mind is ridiculous. They know what they know what they know.

And here’s the uncomfortable truth: we’ve all got a little bit of that person in us.  If I’m honest with myself, I do find myself reading (listening/watching, etc.) an article and honing in on a tangential point I disagree with while deliberately ignoring the author’s stated points. Why? Because we want to win the argument even where no argument exists, we want to be right, and just as importantly, we want the other guy to be wrong.

strawman demo

I’ve often said to my children that we always need to be learning. And I do honestly believe that. But one of the dirty little secrets about being a learner is that you must humble yourself. You have to approach the teacher, be it person, book, or experience, with an attitude that says, “You know more than I do.” You come as a supplicant with open hands. You can’t have hands open to accept knowledge if they’re firmly gripped around your rhetorical sword.


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