Creating Social Responsibility

Fred Smith speaks directly about the need for emotional control.

By Fred Smith

Emotional control will help us create social civility. We know Christ's formula for civility was the golden rule: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." However, we have adulterated it to "do others before they do you." NBA coach Pat Riley, in his book talks about the "me sickness" which is death to a team.

Our society has become so obsessed with winning that we have moved it out of honest competition into a philosophy of life, making winning synonymous with right and losing the definition of wrong. This win at all costs philosophy creates an adversarial environment where everyone else is an opponent. I have rarely seen civility as the standard in a truly adversarial situation. The outcome of perpetual contest is that we stand alone and alienated. Incivility lives itself out as a disease of separation. This philosophy of winning has even permeated our conversations: "in your face" is a current expression but it's certainly not a theological one. The power phrases like "Just Do It, or "Outta My Way" create a language of incivility that result in thoughts and actions of rudeness. Controlling our attitudes and establishing respect for others requires discipline and a system. As I studied emotions I came up with a little formula that I have worked with quite a bit. I want to give it to you. Experiment with and see if it will help you like it has me. My formula is: "first the thought, then the mood, then the rationalized action." By that I mean, first the thought comes in our mind and if we keep it long enough to endow it with validity, it drops down into our heart and creates a mood, then the mood rationalizes the action. For example, I read the other day in the paper where a mother under duress got this helpless feeling and she harbored it until it became a hopeless mood and then she rationalized an action of killing her two children and herself. Another example is when we harbor anger as a thought it turns into a mood and it rationalizes a hostile action.

How do we work the formula for a successful outcome? We start by keeping that thought out of the heart. As long as we keep it in the mind it will be a fleeting thing. The Jewish people were very practical and they knew that nothing happened until they combined the mind and the emotion, and that is why they said, "guard the heart, for out of it come the issues of life. The powerful words, "As a man thinks, so is he" come from the realization that thought and action are linked. Therefore, our first responsibility is to dislodge the thought before it creates a mood and ultimately rationalizes an action. I'm not suggesting that we have the ability to clear our mind of a thought, because I don't believe we do. I think we can only clear our mind by adding something in its place. There's a tremendous danger of creating vacuums in people's lives. Remember the story in the Bible the man who had an evil spirit and cleansed himself of that evil spirit by driving it out? The evil spirit wandered around trying to find some place to locate. Being unsuccessful he came back and found the place he had left clean and empty. Therefore, he returned bringing seven more vile spirits with him. The scripture says, "The man was worse off than he was before." Today's philosophy that teaches us to be blank slates is just leading us into trouble. Our minds must be filled. If nature abhors a vacuum, even more so does the nature of man.

We re-program the mind with good to replace the bad. For example, the apostle Paul was conscious of this in his writings to the Philippians when he admonished them to "think about such things as truth, nobility, rightness, purity, loveliness, admirableness, excellence, and praiseworthiness." He didn't encourage them to create white space for the world to write its message on.

Emotional discipline promotes civility. Understanding the process of guarding the mind and heart allows us to take control of our actions. Personal responsibility for actions leads us to civility and social responsibility.