July - August 2018

Written By Don Walter
From his column A Minute with Don

minute-with-don-05-18_article.jpgThe concept of inurement intrigues me. In behavioral terms, inurement describes the act of becoming accustomed to something that is undesirable—a hardening to or accommodation to negative things.

A classic example is the illustration of a frog being placed in cool water which is gradually heated. Whereas the frog would normally try to escape hot water, it does not do so if the water temp gradually increases—even to a dangerous level. (Note: No frogs were harmed in the writing of this article!)

Although experiments have proven this to be a myth, it persists. Probably because it makes a point we don’t want to abandon. The ability of humans generally to adapt to and live with unpleasant circumstances on some level reinforces the difficulty of modifying behavior, whether it is our own or someone else’s.

To be fair, we recognize that in order for life to happen for most of us, we need routines and habits. If we had to cognitively process every move or activity, we’d be exhausted before we finished breakfast. Some behaviors need to occur on autopilot so we have enough mental energy to get through the day. Routine and habit alone are not bad things. It is the habitual unhealthy behaviors that cause problems.

Ministers spend much energy trying to modify the behavior of others. I would categorize most sermons I’ve heard (or preached) as focused on some level of behavioral modification. And yet, in our own lives, we know how difficult effecting change can be.

It seems humans would rather accept the status quo than make long-term adjustments. Change is hard work, and without significant incentive is difficult to achieve. This seems especially true when trying to motivate positive behavior toward retirement preparation.

It seems humans would rather accept the status quo than make long-term adjustments.

The thing that really impacts behavioral inertia is a jolt to one’s life. For some, this may result from observing situations in the lives of others and realizing we, too, are on the same path that will reap similar consequences. Sometimes, it comes in the form of sudden disconcerting news about our own situation. Over the years, I’ve had discussions with physicians, dentists, mechanics, and bankers that motivated changes in my behavior. At the time it usually created discomfort, but the long-term result was for the better.

Recently, I’ve been pondering things that shock us and things that don’t. When it was revealed that certain social media platforms had sold private information of users, the reaction of surprise and amazement was itself a shock. We know that one of the most valuable assets marketers desire is information on age groups. It doesn’t matter whether the product is a politician or pet food, such profiles are pure gold. Did the general public really believe an organization existing to make money for management and shareholders would not do so?

At the same time, we have entered a period of inurement to behavior on the part of individuals in some areas of leadership, while expressing newfound angst at long-time disgraceful behavior by others.

Many of us long for relief. We have changed, adapted, adopted, and modified about as much as we can, and the constant jolts are getting harder to absorb. And we wonder, if things ever do settle down, will our patterns of habit and routine look anything like our professed values and stated purpose in life?

For an age such as this, we need to hear the voice of truth through the fog. It does not call us to be relevant or cutting edge. It does not shame us into more discomfort or cajole us into disingenuous accommodation of the disgraceful. Rather, it invites us to come and follow. It says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (LK 10:28-30 NIV).

These are unsettling days, but the voice beckons us, and heeding His call is the only means to finding our way through the fog and uncertainty. It always has been. At times it may appear that the jolts of life have modified our course, but that can be a good thing, especially if it prompts us to refocus our behavior and habits on intentional and genuine obedience to God’s call. In a restless age, it is the true source of rest for a soul.

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.