2019-02-28 Teach An Old Dog?

Good Morning!

Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

I opened my bible this morning, and this was the first verse I saw. It’s a good one. I’m reminded about two men. Two very different men.

The first was a man named John Gagliardi. He was the long-time head football coach of St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN who passed away last year. Unless you are local or familiar with college sports, you probably never heard of him. Suffice it to say he was a legend at what he did. I’m going to be straight with you; I never saw one of his games even though I live in the area. I did know him, however. He used to attend staff meetings where I worked. I was fortunate enough to have spent time with him over meals before these meetings. He was very inspirational and a great motivator, as one might expect.

What really stuck out in my mind was how he spoke of his wife. He spoke of her often; and whenever he did, it was in praise and adoration. He would say he couldn’t understand why a woman so wonderful as her would marry a guy like him. All this was very nice except, after a while, you got the sense that he was very sincere. I’m sure John had his faults, but I’m sure he was a good husband. For him to consider himself a bum compared to his wife is saying quite a bit about her. Now, I’m sure she wouldn’t necessarily agree with her husband’s assessment of their relationship. I’m sure she would be quick to point out her own faults. Over the several meals I had with her, I didn’t notice a halo. Don’t get me wrong. She was wonderful company. I just didn’t see the sparkle that John did.

I want to compare that to my father who is also deceased. My father often spoke of others in his conversations, like John, except my father would complain about people. He didn’t talk about many people, just a few, but these he hated. They had offended him so greatly that he just couldn’t get over it. He did speak highly of some people, but that was only to demonstrate how awful the others were. To make matters worse, those he hated most were those who loved him. Did they have bad attributes or ever need forgiveness? Of course, but they weren’t the scum of the earth, either.

After getting to know John, I realized that both men were doing the same thing – building memories. John was retelling stories from his past to remember that which was important. To John, his wife was the object of his admiration. To my father, it was himself. John built his memories by retelling positive attributes of his loved one and apparently forgot all the negative. My father only focused on the negative and forgot any good. Furthermore, the one-sided reinforcement of their story-telling distorted the object of their attention. John’s wife really wasn’t an angel, as John would have had you believe. My father’s enemies weren’t children of Satan, as he portrayed.

Furthermore, repetition over time changes a person. Physically, we can train our bodies to become expert in a task by focusing and creating muscle memory. Science has determined that the attitude of our thoughts actually change the physical properties of the human brain. In particular, long-term anger and resentment are particularly harmful to the actual brain itself. I don’t recall the actual article, but it has something to do with the chemicals used to process these negative emotions. Long story short, once the brain is changed, it will not be easy to reverse that change. Indeed, it probably isn’t even possible. The old saying, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” has far more relevance than we think.

Would there have been any need to change John Gagliardi’s memories of his wife? I’m sure she would say she isn’t an angel, but there is no harm with him thinking so. In fact, his story is one of great inspiration. He demonstrated how one can increase love over time. On the other hand, there was great need for my father to change his story. His lies and distortions were harmful to himself and others. No good came from it.

Two men fabricating stories. Neither will change. One we don’t want to change. The other would have needed a miracle.

Father, teach me the ways of love. Amen.

Copyright © 2019 Scott Powers

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