We Call it…Potential

11 Sep

September 11. I consider myself to have lived in a reasonably good time in human history. I think, however, if you were to ask about the low point in my lifetime, I would mention this day in 2001. If you polled 100 people my age, I would guess the vast majority would agree. Now, some people have undergone immense personal tragedy and I don’t want to discount that, but as a whole, this is a day that shapes our framework of history.

I was not around for the bombing of Pearl Harbor or D-Day or the any of the days in Vietnam or the day of The Shot Heard Round the World or the signing of the Magna Carta or Reformation Day or many of the other famous days in history. September 11, however, I remember very clearly. I was sitting on my couch as the cable repairman was fixing the TV during a wonderful Caroline in the City marathon on WGN. As he was fixing the cable, we noticed that Caroline and Richard were not on the screen but some newsman from Chicago.

As I sat in the room with that stranger, I didn’t know what to think. Here were people taking everyday things (like airplane flights) in order to destroy iconic buildings (Pentagon, twin towers) and it seemed like it was somewhat successful. The things that have happened since have been too innumerable to try to encapsulate, but on that day, I was speechless. On a personal note, I had an interview with a non-profit organization the next day, which was canceled due to the giving pattern uncertainty, which certainly would have taken my life in a different direction.

More than anything, I just can’t get over how easy it is. We live in a politically hostile environment where people argue things like the legality of weapons is hotly debated. I’m frequently contemplative of a line from a movie that I remember nothing else about—”I’m not afraid of the man who wants ten nuclear weapons…I’m terrified of the man who only wants one.” This is not the post where I argue the politics of gun control, but I will say that I agree with the sentiment of that movie.

The guy who is able to turn an everyday airplane into a torpedo is scary. I remember overhearing a teacher say (I thought about me, though I can’t be certain) that he will either be President of the USA or a terrorist. I think that is why I wanted to be President for a good part of my life. I did not want to be a terrorist. Though, like my teacher, I believe that we all see that hankering for evil within us. We see the ugliness in our own hearts that wants the destruction of someone who disagrees with us.

We are so prone to these evil tendencies that I think we can understand how someone could train people to do such devastating things to their enemies. While I do not believe we all have it within us to do that precise act, I know we all have enough sin in us to do catastrophically terrible things that could cause great harm to some person or group. What excited me about her statement was that she saw potential the other way.

I have not (nor would I likely be able to) survey all my past teachers and see where they thought I would end up. If you are able to do so, let me know if most of them think of me as an overwhelming success or a disappointing failure. I’ve always thought that many of my teachers thought I would be a bum with a rap sheet, as I struggled in school, particularly in the early years. Not with the learning, but with the respect of authority, the obedience, the fitting in with the other rule-followers, and generally being the kid that was most likely to get his name on the board.

I do think that the best teachers want to see the potential in all their students. They want to see the best case scenario. I see this with my own kids. I see their shortcomings, and I attempt to help them correct those. I also see what they can achieve when they become focused on the right thing. As humans, however, being focused on the right thing is difficult. The enemy has traps of good things to sidetrack us (ever heard about the road that was paved with good intentions?) in addition to the innately evil things.

So what hope is there for any of us to achieve the better part of our potential? And how can we tell as we are living our life if we are actually achieving our potential or if we are purposefully sabotaging ourselves when we could accomplish more? I think the best we can do is surround ourselves with people who know us and care for us. If we do, I think they can be our guide. On the other hand, we need to likewise hold other people accountable.

In this mutual accountability we can avoid our own little September 11’s. We can help others avoid the most devastating of things they might do and they can help us avoid the ones that we might do. This is why I find it incredibly beneficial to have good friends who have helped me through many issues. My own personal worst day has been avoided a few times because of the faithful wounds of a friend. For that I am very thankful. I am also quite happy that I consistently have people hounding me to do better in certain areas. One day I may actually achieve my potential!

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