On the Corner

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 By Robert Docter – 


– an interesting word. There’s a certain irony about people who work diligently to accomplish goals while using methods and procedures that move them further away from the goal. They engage in counterproductive behavior.
I suppose it’s a little like raking leaves on a windy day … or throwing a bucket of water off the windward side of a sail boat … or continuing to eat when you’re not hungry. With these examples, however, the word stupid might describe the behavior more accurately.

There does seem to be a relationship between some counterproductive behavior and some downright absurd, irresponsible acts. But much of the time, the person engaging in the counterproductive behavior does not believe that what he or she does is stupid. For some reason the behavior seems right. The individual with an unknown serious heart problem who is trying to get in good physical condition by engaging in regular, strenuous workouts doesn’t see what he’s doing as stupid. When he collapses in the middle of a 10K race he will realize, however, that his behavior might have been counterproductive to his health. The woman who is speeding somewhat recklessly because she doesn’t want to be late for a meeting might possibly identify the behavior as counterproductive if she is stopped by a policeman or has an accident.

It is essential, it seems to me, that we undertake continuous self appraisal to determine those behaviors which we believe will help us achieve a goal but which are, in fact, counterproductive. Failure to undertake such an assessment just might be stupid. It’s like trying hard to be “good” by always striving to fulfill the expectations others have of you and never figuring out who you are. Others provide the criteria for your assessment and make the judgment. You are not a complete person.

Which leads me to another thought.

Some families engage in counterproductive behavior just as readily as individuals. It occurs, for example, when parents fail to allow their children to experience the consequences of their decisions. Often out of love, they try to spare the child the pain of a consequence by minimizing it, or thwarting it openly. Some parents believe that their children will love them more if they grant them early freedom and allow them to do anything they want whenever they want. What the child internalizes from this kind of a relationship is the direct opposite of love. They perceive the parent as uncaring. Inconsistency, poor modeling, inadequate communication skills, weak leadership, rigid roles, wasteful, inane rules – all are counterproductive to the goal of positive family development.

Some organizations engage in counterproductive behavior. I suspect the Army is no exception. In our desire to place leaders in the field, it seems counterproductive to rush individuals into officership when some increased maturity might provide better long range results both for the individual and the Army. Of course, we do the same thing in the local corps. We want to give people something to do in order to keep them in the Army, so we give them a local officer’s commission in which they have stress and difficulty and from which they resign and leave the corps in embarrassment. What about simply feeling forced to maintain a tradition because that’s “the way it’s always been” even though the tradition inhibits our ability to win newcomers. What traditions like this can you name?

As Christians is it counterproductive to our relationship with God if we reject some people from some aspect of our ministry simply because they engage in behaviors which we do not approve? When we do this, even with unconscious subtlety, it seems, sometimes, to be correct. But how does one communicate the essence of Christian love to someone if that someone is rejected? How do we share the Gospel with someone we discourage from being in our presence?

I wonder what Jesus would have done if an openly gay couple had sought a place to sleep in his mission. Somehow I think He would have seen it as an opportunity to reveal himself to them in a spirit of love. Why do we find it so hard?

Come to think of it, there just might be another behavior that is counterproductive. That just could be telling others that their behavior is counterproductive.


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