The Tet Offensive

This is a follow-up post to my last one: Greater Expectations. It continues to explore the concept of expectations and the role they play in building trust. I just want to be very clear that trust building is the goal of meeting or surpassing expectations – not man pleasing. Man pleasing is a useless exercise. I remember, back in high school, I tried to understand what “cool” actually meant so I started looking for examples of “cool”. What I found was a highly relative and highly subjective mix of very very diverse “cool” people – in other words there really is no objective “cool”. To chase man’s favor is to chase the wind. It’s great when it hits your face but don’t expect it to last.

But trust is something else. Trust is an open door into someone’s mind. It’s a key to the heart. It’s worth building, and what’s worth building is worth protecting.

I cringe when I think about people whose trust I’ve lost. That’s probably gone forever. Maybe there’s forgiveness there but I’ll never again have the chance to truly be a part of their life the same way. I’ve blown my chance. Which makes earning and keeping the trust of those I still can very important to me.

So really, when we talk about standards and expectations, we’r really talking about trust.

My dad has a new book coming out, it’s nearly done, and it’s shaping up to be something I would highly recommend. But in the manuscript is a whole section on trust, its importance, how its defined, and how we can build it. Wait for a copy. I’d like to share a thought connected to trust, and I’ll start by talking about a well-known event in the Vietnam War.

January 31, 1968, before many of us were even born, with 80,000 troops, the Communist launched a massive attack on 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of the six major cities and 64 district capitals. This attack would become known as the Tet Offensive. The Communists lost about half their men in this attack and the Vietcong were now crippled.

The ironic thing is, while American and South Vietnamese troops won that battle, many experts say that the Tet Offensive was the turning point that lost them the war, not because they lost more men than the Vietcong, but because they lost the trust of the American people. (The start of Tet is the lunar new year.)

To make a long story short, the Americans back home, who had been told that they were winning the war, were so shocked at the televised images of the Tet Offensive, that they were convinced that the government had lied to them about the war, and they lost confidence in the administration. A loss of confidence is a loss of trust. And when there was no more confidence in being able to win the war (in the jungle as well as the political battlefield), the end had come.

I think about that story, and I think about the Pyrrhic victories of my personal life, the battles I may have won but has cost me dearly. I think about achievements that seemed to be so sweet, dates so hot, or businesses so lucrative, or the different things in my life that seemed like must-haves but have turned out to be expensive mistakes.

These are Tet Offensives of our lives. The battles we win that cost us the war.

Most regrettable are the relationships lost, and the open hearts closed, probably forever, because I had to prove myself right in my position, or had to win a basketball game, or a tennis match, or had prioritized achievement, or just couldn’t accept being last.

While I never really said it, for most of my life winning at all cost, getting what I want at all cost, always seemed right. Now that I’m an old 25 year old, there are some wins that aren’t worth it. They’re not worth it because of the pain the cause or the baggage they bring. They’re especially not worth it because of the trust these wins have destroyed.

If we win every theological debate, but close their hearts, we will lose their souls.
If we win the battle to provide for our family, but lose their trust, we will lose those that mean most to us.
If we win the battle to be elected into positions, but abuse our power, we will lose our country.
If we win on all fronts but lose the trust battle, we will ultimately lose the war.

Greater Expectations

Last week, I began moving things into my apartment. At the moment all i have are basic furniture and books, lots of books, and more books waiting to be moved. I intend to keep it that way: simple, clean, with a lot of bookshelves, and some space for my interests in art and music.

Shopping for home stuff is a lot of fun. If you’re like me, and you like details, discovering the differences in mattresses, thread counts, materials, technologies, and products can be an amazing learning experience. But if again, you’re like me, inflexibly particular, it can be quite expensive, in my case, too expensive, so I’ve drawn up master plan which I have divided into spending phases focusing on the most basic and important to me and getting fancier later on.

It’s a lot of adjusting for me. Having no internet, or not using the AC as much, and not having a piano are just some of the things new to me. And while they’re not essentials, a lot of people don’t live with these conveniences, they’re things I’ve gotten used to, things I’ve come to expect as a norm of life. The truth is, if I hadn’t gotten used to a lot of the comforts I enjoyed I would be much more flexible than I am today.

I realized I have two choices: content myself with lower standards or increase my capacity, through discipline and faith, to earn more.

I thought about it: With every higher level we reach we create a higher expectation. When you’ve past grade 1 you’re expected to be able to handle grade 2 and so forth. When you’re used to a certain standard of living it’s not so easy to lower it. When you’ve tried McDonalds you expect all McDonalds to be the same, which they strive to do, to meet your expectation so that’s why you’re always satisfied. It’s like exchanging numbers with a girl, then giving her a call, then it’s lunch, then it’s dinner, then it’s breakfast, then before you know it, she expects you to give yourself away with a ring included. Expectations escalate.

Here’s the principle on expectations: Not meeting an expectation disappoints, meeting an expectation satisfies, beating an expectation impresses – but it also creates a greater expectation, a greater expectation we now need to at least satisfy. And when we consistently meet or surpass expectations we start acquiring that most precious of currencies: trust.

This is one great challenge the next generation will face: the expectations created by the previous generation. For some the standards have been so low that the expectations are also so low, and the danger here is settling at a low level and we see examples of this in highly impoverished areas – a lowering of standards with each new generation. Some are content with the good or have not been exposed or prepared to take things to the next level. They don’t realize that standards are dynamic what was good before may no longer make the cut, so while they may satisfy at the very least, lurking close by is the very real possibility that someday other things will be more satisfactory and cause people to stop trusting in us and erode our relevance. (See my post on The Survival of the Irrelevant)

And there are those who follow a great generation.

In a visit to a partner’s factory, I was talking to one of the managers about the new family member who joined the company. This company is a respected firm that has been around since before the war. It’s on its fourth generation I believe, with the crown prince about to take over. I remember telling the manager, “Must be nice to inherit such a great company. At least it isn’t so hard.” She looked at me and said, “I think it’s actually harder. Imagine being in your twenties, having little experience, but having responsibility over hundreds of employees right away?” She was right. While this guy had a lot going for him by being heir to success, his inheritance brought a burden with it – a burden of greater expectations.

This is why building a strong next generation is so critical. Because with each changing of the guard we are posed the question: will we raise the standard? Raising the standard will require more from us and it will increase expectations of us. We will then have to respond with an even higher standard. But if the generations are prepared well, prepared to be strong, to fight, not to settle, to persevere, to sacrifice, and most of all to have faith to rely more on God, then we need not fear expectations. Besides the alternative is a lower standard, and if we do this, we take the first step in a downward spiral of good to bad to ugly to kaput. Sure we won’t have the burden of expectations on us, but that’s only because we’ve lost their trust.

Glad Surrender

Originally wrote this song for my parents’ anniversary taking lines I would hear my dad say growing up. I recently rewrote it for myself.

I
Didn’t have a clue
Love could be so true
’till you
Came into my life
Took my by surprise

I think of where we are
We have gone so far
I really love you
Jesus, you dry my tears
Banish all my fears
Away

In complete surrender
I’ve found my life’s greatest treasure
‘Cause in my life
It’s only you

I
Was so afraid to fall
Thought I’d lose it all
’till you
Shined upon my face
Such amazing grace

I think of where we are
We have gone so far
I really love you
Jesus, you dry my tears
Banish all my fears
Away

In complete surrender
I’ve found my life’s greatest treasure
‘Cause in my life
It’s only you

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