The Gift of Bad Behavior

Read Ezekiel 18:14-17 (MSG version)

Sometimes the best way to learn is by watching someone else fail. It can literally save us from making the same poor choices in life. So instead of complaining about how the poor choices of others may complicate our lives (bosses, friends, kids, parents, etc.), what if we choose to learn how “not to do things” from their poor choices? It sounds weird, but we could actually turn from being bitter over their choices and actions, to be grateful for the lesson learned.

I remember learning this lesson when I was in college. A kid who lived down the hall from me in my dorm (to protect his identity, let’s just call him Ed), borrowed $5 from me early in the school year. At that point in the year, everyone came to school with some money after working all summer, so it wasn’t a big deal to let someone borrow money. Well a few weeks go by, and my bank account begins to dip. So I ask him for the money he owes me. He doesn’t have it, but said he would get it to me soon. No big deal, I’ll just get it from him later. Another week or so goes by, same story…no money. After about a month or so, I go to check out my cash supply and realize I’m broke. Not only am I broke, but I missed dinner that night and I’m really hungry. A large Papa John’s pizza is $7, and someone wants to split one with me. With the realization that I have no money, I start thinking of the money Eddie owes me. There are a few guys in my room at this moment when I start talking about how he hasn’t paid me back. I explain to them, in frustration, that I’ve asked him a few times to pay me back. With all the testosterone in the room, you can imagine how quickly this conversation turns to picking a fight with him. So, with the encouragement of these guys, I’m ready to go pick a fight with Ed over $5. I failed to mention to you, Ed is a pretty small guy, so I feel pretty confident in my chances of winning this fight.

As all these guys are cheering me on as I’m about to leave my room, the phone rings. It was my dad. He rarely calls me (my mom was usually the one who calls). He immediately picks up from my tone of voice that I’m agitated. He prods me for what is going on. I give him the whole story, and feel justified in starting this fight. He point blank says to me, “You are going to start a fight over $5???” He continues, “This will be the cheapest lesson you can learn. Let go of the $5, and learn that it is important to pay people what you owe them. If you don’t want people to think of you the way you are thinking of Ed right now, then make sure you pay them back as quickly as possible when you borrow money. Don’t be that guy.” He was right. It was $5. Some people spend thousands of dollars learning this lesson, and I got the bargain basement price of $5. My relationship with Ed was great from that moment on, because I changed my perspective.  He unknowingly taught me a GREAT lesson, and gave it to me at a discounted price.  I am VERY glad for my father’s advice that day and know I would have regretted it if I had followed through on my intentions.

This passage in Ezekiel talks about how it is possible to learn from others poor behavior, and how valuable that can be. Instead of getting angry, and then making poor choices based on that anger, why not flip the problem upside down and learn from it? Instead of retaliating or getting even, why not let it go and personally learn to act differently in similar situations?

I would rather be on the right side, than to feel like I’m right and be on the wrong side.