Thoughts on Call-Out Culture

There’s a beautiful story in the Bible that goes like this:

John 8

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I wrote about it before in a post called Cast the First Love. I’m bringing it up again in light of today’s Call Out Culture or Outrage Culture, which is defined as:

Call-out culture (also known as outrage culture) is a term for the social phenomenon of publicly denouncing perceived racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry. Denunciation (“call-outs”) can happen in person or online.

A good example of this were the recent events surrounding a horrific bullying video that came from a prominent high school in the Philippines. I’m not going to talk about what happened in the video. I know what I saw (and it looks bad), but I also know that I am many times deceived by what I see, either through not seeing the full picture or seeing things wrongly. This leads me to my first issue with Call Out Culture:

As seen in the definition, it is publicly denouncing perceivedevil acts. 

There’s a big difference between publicly denouncing evil acts and publicly denouncing perceived evil acts.

A good example of this was given by the author Stephen Covey:

“I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing. 

It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what do think, and I guess they don’t know who to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.” 

His paradigm, his perception of the man and the situation, changed when he found out about the bigger story. At first perception, he felt justified to correct the man. With a clarified perception, a view that included the man’s pain, not only his own inconvenience, his righteous indignation turned to compassion. This leads me to my next issue with Call Out Culture:

Call Out Culture shrinks the humanity of both the offender and the offended to the pain and the offense, and this isn’t good for both of them. When a person is narrowed to their pain, they become a victim, and victimhood isn’t healthy at all, no matter how deserved it seems. When a person is narrowed to their offence, they become evil, they are stripped of the other elements of their humanity, which makes restitution not just unlikely but impossible, for who wants to be restored to evil.

What do the top coaches and psychologists make their patients who were victims of other people’s bad behaviour? They don’t shrink the person into the pain. They expand the person by making him or her realize that while the pain is real, he or she is much much more than the pain, and this helps them admit the pain, to come to terms with the pain, to master the pain. When a person’s identity is to tied-up to the pain they feel, it’s very unlikely they will ever enjoy freedom from that pain.

What do the some of the most eminent writers who suffered through inconceivable suffering, such as Viktor Frankl and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, say about evil?

The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp.”
– Viktor Frankl

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”  
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

After suffering immensely from the evil actions of others, after witnessing the evil acts of others, their conclusion wasn’t “Kill evil people!” or even “Pay me back for the pain you caused me!” Instead, it caused them to reflect, and to honestly reflect, on the reality that evil is in all of us, including them! What amazing self-awareness leads you to that conclusion in the midst of your own suffering?

I find myself reading and rereading this particular text from The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

“It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience; how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” 

This brings me to my third issue with call-out culture: It distracts us from dealing with the evil in our own selves, even more, it causes us to legitimize our own atrocious behaviour with our pain. Again, we can turn to Viktor Frankl who puts it very simply:

“No one has the right to do wrong, even if wrong has been done to them.”
– Viktor Frankl

Even before Frankl, the Bible in 1 Peter 3 says

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

When we are too busy repaying evil with evil by participating in the bullying of the bullies, isolating the isolated, shaming the shameful, and attacking the attackers, we fail to acknowledge and address the evil inside of us, and worse, we justify doing evil back, and so propagates a longer cycle of evil.

I once read somewhere that people are more consistent with giving their pets their vitamins than taking their own. It’s probably true. We are better at diagnosing and dealing with the problems of others than facing our own. It makes sense. Dealing with my own problems is painful, humbling, and with slow reward. Dealing with someone else’s issue has no risks, makes me feel righteous, makes me feel valuable, and those feelings come relatively quickly. But the quick satisfaction of feeling justified, of feeling part of a cause, goes just as quickly, and we are left with the reality of who we are without the causes, without the anger, without the rallies, without the latest outcry, and if don’t deal with our own evil, that evil will still be there at the end of the day, even as we cried for justice. 

Focusing on our own demons, fighting them, is harder, less satisfying in the short-run, but more valuable in the long run. The point of life isn’t to make your world a better place, but to mature your soul (again, from Solzhenitsyn), and a world of mature souls is a better place.

Reacting to perceptions, especially impulse and incomplete perceptions, is not the mark of a mature soul.

Shrinking other people, other souls, to their pain or offences is not the mark of a mature soul.

Attacking the evil in others without dealing with the evil we can control within ourselves is not the mark of a mature soul.

I, personally, want to mature my soul. And I, personally, know, know without doubt, know with proof, that there is great darkness inside me. My spirituality isn’t from a man who has always loved to do good, but from a man who is willing to admit a great inclination for doing what’s wrong,  so daily prays for strength. My insights, if you find them deep, aren’t from a wellspring of wisdom, but from the mining of a dark soul, looking for a glimmer of something valuable. And any success I may have achieved is not without its scars, painful lessons, and regrets. It’s all part of life, and it’s magnified when you try to live beyond yourself.

I have no doubt someone will call me out in the future for some past, present, or future mistake I’ve done or will do, some thing I wrote (or tweeted!), some action that offended others. I’ve done way too much, I do way too much, and I interface with way too many people, many of whom I’ve inconvenienced or wronged. But even more than what others may think and say, I know myself. I know myself better than ever. And I’m no longer shocked at the darkness I see in others because I face the darkness in me. If anything, I think I’ve become more understanding. But before you think I’m defending or rationalising bad behaviour, let me end the post with this:

When you wrestle with the reality of yourself, with not just the slightly imperfect, but the incredibly dark, dark, dark, darkness inside you, yet wake-up to try, even just try, with all your heart, mustering all the courage you can muster to do something greater in the world, knowing full well that you will fail at times, knowing full well that the crowds will stone you if you do, knowing full well that those closest to you will run for cover, knowing full well those who hate you will use it against you, knowing full well that the odds are against you, knowing all of that, and still doing the necessary inner work to achieve greater goals, I think that’s what makes a great man.

I hope, if you read this, you won’t join the mob calling for yet another public crucifixion. I hope, instead, you will choose to be great.

2018 Finale: The Light from A Soul Burning and the Brilliance of a Thousand Sparks

Introduction: A Year of Failures

For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.
– Proverbs 24:16

At the end of each year, I go back to the objectives I set at the start of the year to evaluate how successful the year was. This year, like all the previous years I’ve been doing this, I am faced with yet another year of failures. I missed almost every goal I set this year. I planned to read 50 books in 2018 but only read 40. I planned to grow our PayDay users 10x (or 1000%) but only did 2x (2000%). I planned to achieve 14% body fat, reached as low as 15%+, but currently hovering above 18%! I planned to write a blog post a month but struggled to finish my thoughts, leaving a long trail of unfinished drafts. I planned to renovate my apartment (it’s the same place I’ve been living in for over 10 years) to make room for my growing family, but all the extra expenses (particularly health expenses) erased my renovation budget.

In short, in every area of my life in 2018, body, soul, and spirit, financial, relational, and impact, all have fallen short of the targets I set for myself.And like I said, it’s been the same way every year.

But failure doesn’t mean no progress.

Because despite the long list of failures, the progress has been amazing. I may not be able to say I’m a success, a success is someone who has achieved the goals he set out to accomplish, and I failed to do that this year, but I can say I grew exponentially this year. The loftiness of my difficult goals, though remaining unrealized, when combined with extreme commitment and extreme hard work, leads to exponential growth.

Let’s look at the progress. Physically, from 20% to 18% body fat is a reduction of 10%, and in the process I increased my benchpress and squat to as high as 75kg and 100kg respectively, both over 100% of my body weight. What led to those gains? As I pursed my body fat target, I saw that weight training played a big part in burning fat, so I followed the very simple 5×5 method.

In business, let’s take Bridge. While PayDay only doubled its user base (double isn’t enough in tech!), the net promoter scores of our payroll clients grew to an impressive 16+. Payroll isn’t an easy business, but to have more than satisfied customers is an achievement. Even more, we’ve been able to increase our Access user pipeline to beyond 100,000 users – a target we didn’t even set. So our 3 year old startup now has over 70 employees, is receiving great scores for payroll service, and is very well positioned as the only savings app in the Philippines.

With my reading, as my workload and home responsibilities increased, I realized what Solomon said thousands of years ago:

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wears the body.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).

So I decided to change my approach to assembling a personal canon, a list of foundational books for me and my family, and knowing those books by heart. I’m moving away from my youthful vanity of reading a certain number of books to seeking more depth.

In this year of failures, I come out stronger, wiser, more focused, better connected, and better positioned to attack yet another year, another exciting year with even bigger goals set.

When we don’t let our failures, our falls, crush us, when we rise, and rise, and rise again, we progress and improve.

There’s a verse in Proverbs 24:15-16 that goes:

Do not lurk like a thief near the house of the righteous,
do not plunder their dwelling place;
for though the righteousfall seven times, they rise again,
but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.

It’s interesting that the verse reminds us that even righties people can and will stumble.It goes against the formulaic beliefs of most people today, that if I get certain things right, I’ll automatically succeed.The Bible doesn’t say that. This verse actually reminds us the opposite it’s true. It’s possible for people who are seeking to do the right things to still fall and fail. But it also warns anyone who would take advantage of a righteous person’s fall: they’re going to rise again.

I asked myself, “How can someone remain righteous in the midst of great failures, which are many times painful and embarrassing?” Here’s the rule I put for myself and my team:

Even if we fail, let it not be because we were dishonest, lazy, and/or unkind.

To me, to be righteous means to remain honest, hard working, and compassionate, even in the face of failure, trusting God’s word that we will rise again.

But the verses contrast the rising of the righteous with stumbling of the wicked.This reminded me of another verse that refers to the wicked, this time it was the parable of the master and his three servants in the book of Matthew. When rebuking his servant that didn’t put his talent to work:

“His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have recede it back with interest. So take the bag of gold from him and tie it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them…”

It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t only call the greedy wicked but also calls the lazy wicked.It’s easy to point to some greedy rich businessman and call them evil. It’s much harder to admit personal laziness as wicked. But in the Bible they’re both wicked, and both stumble during calamity, and both lose out in the end.

All of this to say, the path of the righteous isn’t some linear road to success. It is a journey to constantly progress in one’s character, moving through each success and failure towards a brighter and brighter future, not because they’re more “successful” as the world defines success, but the path of the righteous gets brighter because the traveler, the righteous person, has become himself, a burning bright light.

Yet another Proverb says this well:

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
– Proverbs 4:18

This idea of being a burning bright light is what the following post is about. I hope it encourages you as you enter the new year to set audacious goals, evaluate yourself honestly, work harder than you’ve ever worked, focus more than you’ve ever focused, grow more than you’ve ever grown, and burn brighter than you’ve ever burned.

Without further ado, my 2018 Finale, titled, The Light from a Soul Burning and the Brilliance of a Thousand Sparks.

(NOTE: I’m sharing the intro ahead so you can read it as I finish the rest of the article. My posts tend to be long, so this should give you a head start. Think of it like a trailer!)

Part 1. The Light from a Soul Burning

If they shut doors and do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou unlucky one,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite your own heart,
and let it burn alone.
– From Ekla Cholo Re by Rabindranath Tagore

When there’s nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire.
– From Your Ex-Lover is Dead by Stars

(Section to Follow)

Part 2. The Brilliance of a Thousand Sparks

As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
– Proverbs 27:16

“The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper.” 
– Aristotle

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” 
– C.S. Lewis

(Section to Follow)

2018 Christmas Post: Mighty God

First of all, I would like to greet my readers a Merry Christmas! I hope that Christmas is a joyful and meaningful season for you as you celebrate Christ.

I have two more posts for 2018, which has been a year of low writing output. I’ve just been really really really busy with my current startup life, which includes being a startup husband (2 years), a startup dad (1 year), and a startup CEO (3 years). Much of my last post, the 2018 Finale post, will be a synthesis of these experiences. The title of that post is The Light from a Soul Burning and the Brightness of a Thousand Different Sparks.

The other post is this one, at least the one that follows this introduction. It’s is my Christmas post for the year.

I wrote it in on our trip to Taiwan last week, after listening to my father speak on the following verse:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6 ESV

As I listened to my dad’s preaching about The Promise of Christmas; as he read the verse in Isaiah 9 describing Jesus as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace; I remembered a recent article I wrote about what makes someone spiritual. I realized that the descriptions of Jesus in the verse, words describing the coming baby Jesus, speak of not just any baby, but a spiritual one. A Wonderful Counselor who would have transcendent wisdom, an Everlasting Father for an enteral horizon, and a Prince of Peace that values shalom, an amazing concept of spiritual harmony that comes from our restoration with God (sacred values).

But I missed one, like I miss a thousand things. I missed Mighty God, and that’s an important thing to add. A truly spiritual person, has evidence of Supernatural Power, a power that comes from being deeply connected to God. It’s not enough to have wisdom, to have eternal love, nor to pursue Shalom. We also need the power to put that wisdom into practice, to turn the love we get from God into love for others, and to achieve harmony in life. That’s why I wanted to update my list of spiritual traits and add Supernatural Power.

Let me summarize it here:

Wonderful Counselor – Transcendent Wisdom

Mighty God – Supernatural Power

Everlasting Father – Eternal Love

Prince of Peace – Bringer of Shalom

It’s no accident that Christmas has a spiritual feel to it. While the busy-ness of the season many times distract us, there’s enough power in the tradition to bring families together, to cause some gratefulness and reflection that we sometimes simply think of as nostalgia. But it’s more than just warm feelings for a time past. It’s a yearly call to embrace the spiritual, to go beyond just the material here and now, to seek transcendent wisdom, to live for an eternal horizon, to pursue the sacred value of Shalom, and to be animated by the supernatural power of a Mighty God.

Here are some reflection questions to ask during this season:

  1. Am I pursuing Sacred Values, the Shalom God wants for my life?

  2. Am I thinking and acting with eternity in mind? Or am I simply reacting to the here and now, and chasing temporary things?

  3. Am I making decisions based on Transcendent Wisdom? Or am I simply relying on common sense, human knowledge, and my own feelings?

  4. What is my source of strength? Is it a good night’s sleep? A good meal? The compliments of others? My money? My body? My mind? Or am I finding strength by worshipping a Mighty God?

Personal Reflection

I asked myself these questions, and my honest assessment is that I haven’t done a great job living a truly spiritual life, as defined by the criteria I listed. The most damning point being that I am many times more preoccupied with temporal things instead of sacred and eternal matters. Many times the day to day responsibilities suck up the spirituality from my life.

This is why personal reflections are important. It’s beneficial to take yourself out of the busyness and recalibrate spiritually.

Christmas is a perfect time to do this.

Christmas is also a perfect time to worship. When my reflections reveal a man lacking in every way, I turn to God. I may not be the best model of spirituality, but I trust in someone who is more than a model. I follow the one the verses were talking about, my Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.