Picking Up Sticks

file1911272386365I’m continuing to read and enjoy Stephen Covey’s classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  There are a lot of great principles packed into this book.

I’m still processing habit #2 – “begin with the end in mind.”  I’m chewing today on something Covey said on page 123: “We are free to choose our actions, based on our knowledge of correct principles, but we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions.  Remember: ‘if you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other.'”

In my work as a pastor, I hear (too often) the phrase “what I do doesn’t affect anyone but me.  It’s my decision and mine alone, and it only affects me.”  Usually this is in the context of a decision or pattern of behavior that is unhealthy or spiritually unwise.  Covey’s right – we are free to choose our actions.  But if we think that those choices are isolated in their effects to just us, we’re not using our brain.

Every person I know lives in community with others.  I’ve never met someone who is completely isolated – who lives all by themselves, influences no one, and is influenced by no one.  Our choices – our decisions – WILL impact those around us.  Our actions and decisions have consequences – and we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.  We can only choose whether to do the action or not in the first place.

If you choose to make an unwise decision, or to continue in an unhealthy pattern of behavior, your choice affects the people in your life.  Your spouse, your kids, your co-workers, your neighbors, your extended family, your church family – all can be affected.

I love that statement – “if you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other.”  When we make a choice or a decision and act on it, we choose the consequences that go along with it.  It’s just the way it works.

Our dog likes to play fetch.  If you throw a tennis ball or one of her dog toys, she will run after it and bring it back to you.  If I throw a stick, and she grabs one end in her mouth, the other end can’t stay where it is – it has to come with her too.  Consequences are like that.

Leaders, think about this in the context of your leadership.  When you make a leadership decision, you choose the consequences that come along with it.  “When you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other.”

Are you being as intentional about the consequences as you are about making the initial decision?  How can you begin to think farther out and take into account the consequences of your decisions?