As a communications trainer, I often find myself interrupting my students. One day, I had divided my class into two groups to hold practice meetings. I challenged them to use a timer to keep the meeting focused and on track.
One group was very vigilant about using the timer; the other was not. At one point, I interrupted the group not using a timer to challenge their decision. During our debrief, we discussed the impact that choice had on their effectiveness in completing the task.
Photo: Melinda Meyer / Flickr
Having Influence by Choice
We all make many choices everyday. Some choices are good, others are bad. Some choices are downright catastrophic. Some are rather insignificant — should I wear blue or green today? Others are life-changing: which university should I attend? Should I get married?
Each choice is made possible by free will. And this issue of free will, one of my core beliefs, has prevented me from fully embracing a strong pro-life stance in the past.
Each individual has a sphere of influence — friends, family, classmates or coworkers. Within my sphere are my students, who are often high achievers and not easily influenced. Because their learning is my responsibility, I infringe upon their free will with no qualms; they will never grow in their ability to communicate clearly if I don’t challenge their habits and push them to change.
How can I do this effectively? It is only possible when I have taken the time to practice connective listening, to build a relationship with the students and to hear out their hopes, dreams, and goals.
Photo: Foto Michel / Flickr
Consequently, if I have influence, I have responsibility for challenging, informing, coaching, and mentoring — knowing that the final decision rests with the individual.
Free Will as Given by God
Speaking as a Biblically educated layperson, I have always viewed free will as a keystone to how God relates to individuals. “God doesn’t want robots,” my pastor has said. “He wants a family, so He gave man free will.” It is my choice to love and follow Christ that makes the relationship so deeply meaningful.
In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul explains that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” We know that not all people are saved, but that is God’s desire; it is our choice to turn to Him or not.
As this is the case, by extension I have always interpreted this to also mean that I cannot judge, coerce, pressure, or otherwise infringe upon the free will of others, even when their choices are detrimental to themselves.
Photo: Tim Caynes / Flickr
Because I believe in free will so strongly, I have often felt I had no place to criticize the decisions of others, especially those with whom I have no influence. However, in recent months, I have expanded my view of who is within my circle of influence and to whom I have responsibility.
Influencing expanding circles must be done wisely, not through coercive measures or through manipulation. In their book Real Influence, Mark Goulston and John Ullmen describe what they call “connected influence,” a means of influence based on collaboration rather than competition, relationship and understanding rather than authority and reason.
They describe practical steps people can take to increase their connected influence. It is only in this way that I can possibly even consider infringing upon another’s free will, influencing another’s choice.
Previously, I didn’t consider American culture in general or the issue of life in particular as within my realm of responsibility; I have seen the entire pro-choice movement as outside my field of influence.
Now, just as I assign presentations to my students, the Great Teacher of Life has highlighted an assignment so large it has made me rearrange my priorities. God has called me to exert influence on the culture, if even in a very small way, and the issue of life falls within that realm of responsibility.
It is not only my responsibility. We as a Church universal are responsible for our communities. However, as the church in general hasn’t taken responsibility for influencing and directing the culture, other perspectives and worldviews have been happy to fill the void.
Photo: UnionDocs / Flickr
Too long have we surrendered responsibility for our communities, our society, and our national culture. It is time to start connecting with the people around us and exerting the gentle, loving influence of Christ as a first step to changing from a culture of death to a culture of life.
As Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”