Ever leave a situation or conversation and regret the way you acted? Ever found yourself wondering “why did I say that, or act that way?” You’re not alone! We all can look back on things we said or did that were not the best representation of who we really are, or at least want to be.
What we want, in all circumstances, is something called ethical stability. That is, the ability to remain stable and balanced, acting and reacting in line with our personal ethics regarding good behavior. Ethical stability results when we act in conformity to our internal set of personal beliefs and standards, rather than allow external circumstances and situations to incite us to unethical behavior. Ethical stability demonstrates itself in a high level of self-control.
But, even the most ethical people can lose control of self when certain unethical toxins find a place in their souls. These toxins dilute the very convictions meant to provide stability in situations where circumstances entice us to react badly. We would all do well to recognize and guard ourselves against these insidious invaders which, if allowed, will burrow deeply into our hearts and minds leaving us susceptible to behavior we will later regret. Here are a few of them.
Bitterness ranks high among those attitudes which, if allowed to remain, can turn a balanced, joyful person into a time bomb. We’ve all felt it, that capacity to go off on someone in a way that even surprises us. Bitterness is the residue of wrongs suffered that we intentionally store up in order to feel good about acting badly. Bitterness seems like justice to us, since forgiving and forgetting would mean the other person got away with it. But actually, bitterness is an acid that eats its container, bit by bit, plunging the soul into a sea of seething cynicism and outright hatred. And we all know how powerful such a concoction can be, and how disruptive to relationships.
Defensiveness is also the enemy of balanced, belief-based self-control. We’ve all been around those people who have an excuse for everything and are quick to launch a scathing attack on anyone foolish enough to critique or correct them. This defensive posture is really the fruit of the root we call pride. Once arrogance gains an upper hand in the mind, even the strongest convictions to the contrary can be mauled by this lion of the soul. If we are to be good neighbors, good husbands, wives, and parents, and good citizens, we simply must beat down our pride with the twin hammers of accurate self-analysis and humility.
A third obstacle to ethical stability is a soft pragmatism demonstrated too often in the easy and frequent use of deceit. By this I mean the habit of telling lies, big or small, whenever convenient. It can be half-truths, excessive exaggeration, evasive prevarication or simple, straight forward, bold-faced lies. And while there are myriad reasons such habits are just plain wrong, they also make hash out of any set of ethical boundaries. Habitual deceit defines a person with no inner consistency, no adherence to any rules of authentic relationships, and certainly no sense of accountability to the most basic standards of right and wrong.
Lastly, I would call guilt a massive obstacle to personal ethical stability. Where guilt resides, it does so because we have become so adept at rationalization. Guilt can be dealt with and removed, but only when admission, confession, and restitution are accomplished in full. But, instead we rationalize away the reality, and deceive ourselves into thinking we can mask the guilt. But it festers, and grows, and becomes the eruptive fuel for outbursts of anger and other poisonous behaviors that ultimately, leave us with the added guilt of regret.
So, what do we do? Remain vigilant against bitterness, overcoming it with forgiveness.
Understand what a hyper defensive posture says about you, and realize correction is actually one way to be better. Be intentional about telling the truth, regardless of the consequences, and become a person who doesn’t need to lie about who and what they are. Lastly, rid your soul of guilt through sincere confession and restitution. After all, the God who made us also offers to us forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. Seems to me that’s an offer worth considering, and a model worth imitating.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. Ethically Speaking” runs Saturdays in The Signal.