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Meet Tom Petersen

Tom Petersen works at a company in the Midwest, where he processes e-mail, attends meetings and recalibrates management expectations. His book of essays on work and faith is currently lurking outside of publishers’ back doors, trying to meet a naïve editor. Contact him at www.HisWorkInProgress.com.

 
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The High Cost of Self-Interest

By Tom Petersen
www.HisWorkInProgress.com

CBNMoney.comI am not surprised when my children do selfish things, or make decisions based on their own self-interests. They are still young, so I expect it. But when my co-workers (most of whom are chronologically older than my children) act, in my opinion, primarily out of their own interests, I quickly grow weary. And my weariness grows exponentially the longer I am in the workforce.

I’m getting pretty darn weary.

I may be losing patience with selfish people simply because I am getting old and crotchety. But I also worry that selfishness has taken up permanent residence in the workplace. Work seems to foster the attitude that it’s OK to worry about “Me First.” I cringe when someone, actually meaning to be helpful, says, “If you don’t look out for number one, who will?” It bothers me because I just don’t think people should be so selfish. And it really bothers me because I keep hoping that someone, somewhere, finally will live up to my expectations. (I, of course, don’t live up to those standards, but I keep hoping someone else will.)

I reached a low point one day when an executive told me he wanted to tackle a big new project the company sponsored because he knew it had the CEO’s attention and was guaranteed the resources and staff to succeed.

I don’t fault anyone who wants to get in front of something that they think will be successful. (As one of my co-workers likes to say, “when they’re trying to run you out of town, get in front of them and call it a parade.”) But this executive more than once had condemned the project before he thought he had a chance at running it. This was more about his own interests than doing the right thing (in my old and crotchety opinion).

It’s that kind of behavior that has me paging through my Old Testament to see if there’s any sort of incantation to ask God to smite someone. I haven’t found such a verse yet, but I did note with interest Nehemiah 6:14 and the clever way Nehemiah points out others’ bad behavior. “Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs…” I like Nehemiah’s approach. “I don’t want to be telling tales out of school here, God, but I suggest you take a gander over at Tobiah and Sanballat and see if that’s what you had in mind with the whole ‘follow my statutes’ message.” I’m sure God is looking for a few good snitches.

Faced with a work world chock full of selfishness, I try all kinds of responses. I run from it. I sulk. I try to out-selfish it. I practice passive avoidance (characterized by saying nice things about bad behavior to the person’s face and then complaining about it to others later). But my wife – ever the practical one, or just growing weary herself after hearing my continual complaints – gave me another alternative as I left for work the other day.

“Have a good day,” she said as she kissed me goodbye at the front door.

“Ugh,” I grunted fluently.

“I prayed for you this morning,” she said annoyingly chipper-ly. “And your co-workers.”

Ah, yes. Praying for someone else. The last refuge of a stubborn heart. And thank you so much, sweetheart, for convicting me this morning even before I leave the doorstep.

But giving that frustration to God is what we are expected to do. Holding on to our frustrations with others actually perpetuates the selfishness. Giving it to God works miracles. Friends have told me how their hearts were softened and their frustrations relieved when they have regularly prayed for others. It is a powerful tool in breaking the cycle of selfishness.

I’m almost ready to try it myself; just as soon as I’m sure God’s not going to act on that smiting thing.

What’s your response when you see selfish behavior at work? How do you ensure you’re not contributing to selfish behavior? Send Tom an e-mail and let us know.

Tom Petersen works at a company in the Midwest, where he processes e-mail, attends meetings and recalibrates management expectations. His book of essays on work and faith is currently lurking outside of publishers’ back doors, trying to meet a naïve editor. Contact him at www.HisWorkInProgress.com.

 

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