First Responders

The first people on the scene can often dictate what happens from then. Two cars have a small collision. If no-one arrives the drivers will sort the matter out between them. If a police car is first on the scene then the legal due process will dictate what happens. If a tow-truck is first on the scene you can be sure that the tow-truck driver will hook up the car that needs the most work, since that will give him the most income from the repair job.

People’s motivations, as per the Motivational Gifts of Romans 12, have been demonstrated to influence how an event unfolds. If an Organiser arrives on the scene they will start organising people into the most effective response. If a Helper arrives first they will usually dive in and start doing what they can. A Teacher will take the opportunity to point out some lesson from what happened, while a Mercy motivated person will seek out the ones needing the most reassurance and meet that need.

In a medical problem a surgeon thinks about cutting people open. A pharmacist thinks about which chemicals will be the most helpful. A chiropractor thinks about which structural manipulation will be the most helpful, and so on.

All that is said, simply to introduce the idea of our personal First Responders. When people face a new moment in their life they will tend to have a suite of first responses which they have cultivated over the years. Their choice of first response will have impact on how things unfold from there.

For instance, if a person’s first response is, “Oh Dear!” compounded by feelings of inadequacy, then each new moment will start off as a struggle. If a person’s first response is that they are being bothered by the interruption or challenge of something new, they are likely to express exasperation, saying something like, “What is it this time?”

It strikes me that not many people have been trained to think about their First Responders. They have developed a suite of responses which suit how they feel and they fail to see how those responses impact others. I have met people who always give off the signal that they are more important than others and should not be interrupted. Every call on their attention is greeted by a groan. This is often very out of place in the signal it sends to their loved ones and family.

I have met people who give off the signal that they are not interested. They may simply grunt or give a cold stare when they are spoken to. This is an enormous hurdle for people to overcome in order to respect them and build relationship with them.

Others are dismissive and always want to give the impression that they already know anything anyone could wish to tell them. They talk down to others, making them feel that their contribution was not needed. Still others launch into ‘oneupmanship’, the game of competing with others. If someone has something valuable to contribute these people feel the need to go one better. This makes friendship with them very difficult.

Way back in my primary school days a teacher talked about how our face is always sending a signal to people. If we are smiling then people will like us. If we are frowning, then people will tend to stay away from us. Since I liked the idea of people liking me, I make mental note and made a point of smiling all the time.

By the time I was in High School I was noted for my grin. It had become such a part of my life that I wore it all the time, or at least, a lot more often than others. When someone called my name and I turned to see who it was, I wore a smile. When the teacher was talking to the class I tended to smile.

The other thing I did was introduce some affirming sounds into my vocabulary. We can use words or ‘sub-vocalisations’, which are grunts and noises. “Uh Huh!” is a sub-vocalisation, and so is, “Umm”, “Err”, “Uh Uh”, etc. I tried to give positive sounding sub-vocalisations, that let the other person know I was listening, interested and friendly.

These became my First Responders. And they served me well. They gave people the impression I was friendly and worth talking to and respecting. King Solomon, in his wisdom, told us thousands of years ago that if person expects to have friends he should be friendly to others.

“A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

That doesn’t mean that I always responded well, but it at least gave me a head start. Even today my face feels comfortable in a smile and the lines on my face celebrate the impact of my frequent grin.

I would like to coach the western world in how to train the face and words to be good First Responders. The problem is that our words come from our heart, since our mouth is most likely to speak what our heart is feeling.

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

There are two ways around the problem of our mouth speaking what is in our heart. Firstly we can at least tame our face and tongue to give a pleasant and respectful First Response. Most importantly, however, we can let God search our heart and uncover those things which poison our tongue, because they poison our heart.

Selfishness, pride, intolerance, hatred, unforgiveness, shame, rejection, jealousy, conceit, self-will and personal agendas are just some of the garbage in our hearts, which cause us to speak unwisely and give a poor First Response to others.

Try putting a smile on your dial and a kind word on your tongue. Try thinking of that other person, whether spouse or stranger, as someone who deserves to be blessed with the gift of your pleasant persona. Try blessing people, instead of reacting to them. You will find that your communications and friendships go a lot further when you show yourself friendly.

Oh, and do yourself a favour. Listen to what comes out of your mouth. Catch a glimpse of the look on your face. Do a reality check on your First Responders and see if you shouldn’t erase your old programming and write some new code for your face and your tongue. Hmmmm?

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