Learning who you are.

In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath talk about two approaches to decision-making. One kind looks at consequences and asks, “What will yield the best for me?” It can be the most good, or the least punishment, but the point is always self-focused. The other kind looks at identity. According to the Heaths, we ask three questions: “Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What do people like me do in situations like this?” (p 190.)

We started talking the other day about the model of delegation Jethro taught his son-in-law Moses. The first step was, “remember your job.” The second step, sounding a lot like the Heath brothers 3500 years later, is Teach people who they are.  Jethro said, “Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.”

A set of teachings makes a group. It creates identity. It shows people who they are. “We are people who care about this.” “We are people who avoid doing that.” And, in the case of Moses and the people of Israel, it wasn’t a matter of some teachings. It was a set of teachings received as a chosen people, given from hand of the choosing God.

When we read Moses’ words 40 years later in Deuteronomy, we hear a story of choosing and teaching. When we read the confession of the people recorded in Nehemiah 9, millennium after Moses, we hear a story of choosing and teaching (and forgetting). When we get to Paul’s letters, they often spend the first half talking about identity before getting to actions, stories of choosing and teaching.

The process of forming leaders has to spend time in passing on identity, in teaching the teachings. As Rich Mullins wrote about the creed, “I did not make it; no, it is making me.”

6 thoughts on “Learning who you are.

  1. Rich Dixon

    “What do people like me do in situations like this?” Wow! That stopped me in my tracks, I guess because it forces me to confront where I get my identity.

    From a leadership standpoint, we’d hope people make choices based on a clear sense of identity.

    I wonder if it works the other way. Do you think we can infer one’s true (rather than stated) source of identity by the choices they make?

    Does this have anything to do with Luke 6:43-45?


  2. gwalter

    Great concept – asking: “what do people like me do in situations like this?”

    My problem, I don’t hang around people like me. Ha! But this gives me lots to think about – thank you.


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