The basic premise of the book is that for most of humanity, until the 20th century, we valued a “Culture of Character.” “The ideal self was serious, disciplined, hard working, patriotic, and honorable. What counted most was, not the impression one made in public, but how one behaved in private.”
But, that all changed in the last 100 years. Americans embraced the Culture of Personality. We began to pay more attention to how others perceived us. We became captivated with larger than life people who were bold and outgoing. The Culture of Personality was that of a performer. While we still cared about integrity and character, we were drawn to the person who “owned the room.”
How did this come about and what are the implications for followers of Jesus, especially we who are leaders? Finding our place in urban America In our country’s early years, most people lived in small towns interacting with people they’d known all their lives. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, a perfect storm of big business and urbanization drew people to cities in droves. “Americans found themselves, no longer working a living with life-long neighbors, but with strangers. Citizens morphed into employees and were faced with the question of how to make a good impression quickly on people with whom they had no civic or family ties.”
For generations, people read books like, Pilgrims Progress, which warned readers to behave with restraint if they wanted to go to heaven. Instead they bought self-help books like Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People. As Carnegie says, “to create personality is power!” With the coming of movies, actors became our heroes and our ideal, not the godly grandmother the next farm over.
Parents wanted their children to be leaders, so they both modeled and encouraged their children to be extroverts. They taught them to look people in the eye, project and image of self-confidence, be bold, hang out with the right people and emulate them. It was only a matter of time before the Kardasians and Bad Girls became a national hit, instead of a national disgrace.
I bought into that lie, and perhaps you have as well. Until age 14 or so I was an introvert. I wanted to be a forest ranger and live alone in nature. My parents expected nothing more from me, but to love God, live out the good Christian life and be happy. They could have cared less if I was a carpenter or doctor as long as I was a good Christian. They fostered a culture of character.
But, in my mid teens, I began to observe successful people. Instead of imitating Christ, I began imitating them. I began to dress like successful people dressed. I observed what they talked about, what they wore, how they entered into a room, greeted others. I studied them and became just like them.
And, it worked! I went from the son of a factory worker to being independently wealthy in my late 20’s. I knew what it took to focus attention on me – to get people to admire me – to buy from me – to notice me. All the while, I believed in Jesus, but what I really believed in was me. When the spirit of the living God finally invaded me in 1979, the me in me began to die and my highest goal became to be like Jesus.
But here’s the problem! The Bible says, “if any man is in Christ, the old has gone and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Here’s the problem, while I do believe I am a new man in Christ, the old man in me still shows up at my back door, wanting me to come out and play! I still find myself trying to impress others, rather than imitate Christ.
Is being an extrovert a bad thing? No, if. And here’s the big if: If people admire you more for your Christ-likeness and character, than they admire your persona, you’re probably fine. But still, you’d do well to ask yourself these questions, which I’ve begun asking myself. • Do I talk too much? • When I speak, is it to impress or serve? • Do I listen well? • What habits have I developed that might possibly intimidate introverts? • Do I think less of introverts? • Are there virtues I’ve drifted from to keep up my persona? • What have I done to encourage a culture of personality in my children or grand children, to the detriment of character?
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Romans 12:3
Should Christians desire to be introverts? The solution isn’t for all Christians to become introverts. Some of the best elders our church has ever had were introverts. They rarely talked. But when they did, or when they acted, it was with a gentleness and wisdom that sometimes took my breath away.
On the other hand, to be too quiet, to deferring, is to be flavorless salt. Christ expects us to let our light shine, tell others about him and as Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38
But, let’s not confuse being bold for Christ, with simply being bold. As I have said, some of the most bold Christians I know are quiet, strong and steadfast. “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” I Peter 2:12
Developing the character of Christ is the primary goal for all followers of Jesus. Just be careful not to let you, your persona, get in the way of that and in effect, compete with Christ. I know – to my shame, I’ve done that.
Question: If you’re an extrovert, what have you done to keep your persona in check?
Following Jesus in Real Life