When We are Our Own Worst Enemy

Sometimes, I think that I’m my own worst enemy. If I were to give a pecking order of what I find most difficult to manage and change, I must admit that at the top of list is myself. James has important teaching in this area. Consider these passages:

  • We are tempted to sin by our own evil desires, 1.13-15
  • We are tempted to think that by our anger, we can bring about good things in other people, 1.20
  • We are tempted to say things that we shouldn’t say, 1.26 & 3.2-12
  • We are tempted to fight and quarrel because we have conflicting (mutually exclusive) desires within us, 4.1-3
  • We are tempted to live with unconfessed sin and this can cause trouble and sometimes physical illness, 5.13-16

When it comes to managing a business, so much of our teaching and understanding is about how to manage others toward task completion and/or project success. But in looking at what James wrote, I fine the most difficult things to manage in life are not others, buy myself:

  • Desire
  • Anger
  • Speech
  • Arrogance (unconfessed sin is rooted in arrogance)

It’s interesting that Murray Bowen swerved into the truth, though he was an agnostic at best. In his model of family therapy, he wrote this:

“The basic self is a definite quality illustrated by such “I position” stances as: “These are my beliefs and convictions. This is what I am, and who I am, and what I will doo, or not do.” The basic self may be changed from within self on the basis of new knowledge and experience. The basic self is not negotiable in the relationship system in that it is not changed by coercion or pressure, or to gain approval, or enhance one’s stand with others. There is another fluid, shifting level of self, which I call the “pseudo-self,” which makes it difficult to assign fixed values to the basic self, and which is best understood with functional concepts. The pseudo-self is made upf of a mass of heterogeneous facts, beliefs, and principles acquired through the relationship system in the prevailing emotion….The pseudo-self, acquired under the influence of the relationship system, is negotiable in the relationship system.” (Murray Bowen, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, p. 473)

Bowen’s thinking was that we had parts of ourselves, when placed under stress, we negotiated away in order to lower our stress or anxiety. But we also have another part of our personhood that is not negotiable, no matter the amount of stress or anxiety we experience. It was the pseudo-self that was so difficult to manage, in Bowen’s thinking. He place premium value on people managing themselves as a way to reduce conflict and increase harmony in family relationships.

When we look at the list produced from the book of James, what we find is that each action (to use Bowen’s thinking) emits from the negotiable part of our personhood. I would submit that the negotiable part of our beings results from a lack of grounding in our beliefs and relationships. When I use anger to try to produce a good action in another person, I’ve negotiated away an important tool (patience and clear thinking) while violating my own values. If I say something I shouldn’t or if I don’t have alignment within myself on my own desires, then that comes out in a myriad of ways, all of which are destructive to those around me.

When you look at the list of what James gives us, I find that my most difficult elements in my day to manage are about myself. The better I manage these elements (mainly by aligning my desires and thoughts with those of God), the less I find myself saying something or doing something that results in more conflict or an added negative element to an existing problem. A sign of a great leader is self-awareness. Being aware of how my actions and words affect others and the current situation can greatly reduce the “my own worst enemy” syndrome.

Bill English, CEO


2 thoughts on “When We are Our Own Worst Enemy”

  1. Pretty deep stuff. Another temptation that seems to fit in is the tendency to try to remove that speck from the other guy’s eye while a plank is stuck in my own eye. Guilty as charged.

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