Jul 262015 5 Responses

Picking a Hill On Which to Die

Last night Silas didn’t like the chicken his mother cooked for dinner. It was grilled and he wanted fried. Jenny told Silas to eat his dinner; Silas boldly proclaimed, “I will not eat more than three bites of chicken.”

I turned to him and said, “I’ll bet you that you do.” And with that give and take, battle lines were drawn.

It’s a fascinating thing played out at family dinner tables, high government negotiations, and everywhere in-between. As soon as one person draws a line in the sand, others are tempted to test their resolve. Sometimes it is for good reasons, but many times it is out of sport. (See: Leadership–Learning to Take a Punch)

I often tell young leaders, “Be careful about drawing a line in the sand because as soon as you do, someone will test you.” And generally speaking, the hill you claim you are willing to die on is not important enough to fight for.

I’ve heard young managers say, “I’ll never run that report. It’s a waste of time.” Really? You would sacrifice your career over a report?

I’ve heard young pastors say, “I’ll never pastor a church that still has a mid-week service.” Really? You would lose an opportunity to lead just because you want Wednesday night off?

I’ve heard a 7-year-old say, “I’ll never eat more than three pieces of this chicken.” Really? You would lose your privileges of electronics and a late bedtime over one bite of chicken?

It feels courageous to boldly announce where you draw the line. It gives the sense of weight and power. Yet we are fools if we quickly draw our battle lines because most fights in life simply aren’t worth it, especially fights which can be avoided.

I’m not sure what it is within humanity that causes us to force the hand of someone who flippantly declares on which hill they are willing to die, but I notice the tendency in myself and others. Maybe we like to see people fail. Maybe we like to test people’s resolve. Maybe we just want some distraction from our lives. No matter the reason, it is a real threat to us all. When lines are drawn, people are pushed toward those lines.

And in most cases we are creating fights, not eliminating them, whenever we boldly announce upon which hill we would die. (See: Jesus, Leadership, and the Courage to Serve)

But on occasion, lines must be drawn. While the hills are fewer than we think, there are certain hills upon which we should be willing to die. We should consider them, study them, name them, and then privately keep them to ourselves until the moment comes in which we need to make them known.

We shouldn’t foolishly announce them to everyone. We shouldn’t carelessly pick hills which really don’t matter. We shouldn’t take the matter lightly.

However, there should be clear lines which we will not cross at work, with family, in our personal lives, and at play.

Even when we can’t win, there are some battles worth fighting. We must choose them carefully, but we must have the courage to face those fights when they are pressed upon us.

My fear is that our culture is quickly becoming one in which some people are too willing to fight every issue while others aren’t willing to fight any. We must find a middle ground.

Not every battle is worth fighting. Not every hill is worth dying on. And we certainly shouldn’t give the appearance of false bravery by foolishly claiming we are willing to die on a hill which is not worth our lives.

But other battles need to be fought. We must be willing to sacrifice our incomes, careers, and even our lives for important issues. (See: What No One Ever Tells You About Being a Leader)

Our country was formed by brave men and women willing to give of themselves for the freedom of others.

I’m of a faith in which everyday men and women around the world would rather give up their lives than denounce their beliefs.

We need leaders who show an equal courage.

We need politicians who would rather lose elections than sacrifice their principles.

We need pastors who would rather lose their congregations than water down their message.

We need business owners who would rather lose their customers than their character.

We need leaders who know upon which hill they are willing to die.

Silas ate more than three pieces of chicken last night. He did so because he needed to be reminded that at our dinner table, he is not in charge. He needed to understand that bombastic words are not always brave words; sometimes they are foolish words. I need to remember the same lesson. (See: Why Others Don’t Trust You)

The world needs leaders. Don’t foolishly fight every fight today. But do have the courage to fight every fight which deserves to be fought.

 

5 Responses to Picking a Hill On Which to Die
  1. Barbara Mamal Reply

    Once again, a beautiful piece. We need people who know that they are not in charge – God is in charge. And we need people who will live that out in their lives. And we need kids who will listen to authority! Especially their parents!

  2. Kerry Reply

    I love this post (maybe not the making Silas eat part but that’s my parenting hang up ) . Picking one’s battles is an everyday challenge. At work and home. Emotions and pride get in the way, but if we learn from the past battles, it gets easier over time .

  3. Robert Winkler Burke Reply

    Kathy Lee Gifford, wife of sports broadcaster Frank Gifford, said this idea perhaps more positively, using the story of David killing Goliath: “Pick your stone carefully. And throw it really hard!” She said this is what they told their children and grandchildren regarding their individual life’s work. Beautiful thoughts.

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