Iron Sharpens Iron

I’ve been observing human behavior since before I can remember. I think I might have been a pretty good anthropologist in some alternate reality. I’ve always been caught up in trying to figure out why people make the choices that they make and do the things that they do.

One thing in our behavior that stands out is that most of us really want to be better than we are. We look at ourselves in the mirror and think that we would like to be thinner or we would like to be more successful or that we would like to have more friends. The awesome thing about this is that it speaks of the power of the human spirit. We were made with an instinct and a spirit to be conquerors.

Unfortunately, many of us never take the steps necessary to make those changes that we would feel good about. We reach for the willpower to do it and pull back nothing but excuses and reasons that we should quit or procrastinate. When this happens we fail to reach our goals. Worse than that, we feel guilty and we beat ourselves up for screwing up again.

Our go to response when we feel guilt and shame is to hide it. We keep it to ourselves and pretend that we have everything together. But we don’t. We don’t have it all together. In fact, we have problems that we don’t even know about yet. Each of us does things or thinks things or acts in certain ways that create problems for us. It’s crazy. Most of the time we’re completely unaware of the trouble that we’re creating for ourselves. We’re actually making our own lives harder!

There is good news though. Iron sharpens Iron

That’s right. We don’t have to shoot ourselves in the foot as long as we’re willing to take a little sharpening.

I was introduced to the concept by my pastor. He uses it as a motivating reason for men to join small groups and spend time with each other. He thinks it’s important and I agree with him. Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

It reminds me of sharpening a knife with a whetstone. You apply a little oil to the stone and then you run the knife against it again and again, putting pressure on the sharp edge. The stone files that edge, removing tiny nicks and imperfections and returns the knife to its appropriate sharpness. The concept is the same. The time and experiences that we share with other people serve as a whetstone for our personality. They help us to spot and eventually eliminate our imperfections.

It’s not easy though. You have to be willing to be sharpened. Remember, our instinct is to hide our problems and to keep them secret. When this is the case it is almost impossible to improve on them. If you’re not exposing the real you then the real you will never be sharpened into the perfect you. Instead, you’ll hold onto your imperfections, denying that there is anything to be worked on.

Additionally, it is important that you are surrounding yourself with the right people. Take me for example, I’m a smart guy but I’m as stubborn as a mule. If I don’t believe what you’re saying then you’ll never be able to move me. Can I sharpen myself by dealing with somebody who is not confident in what they are saying or who isn’t willing to debate? Not usually. That means that I have to find people in my life that can stand up to me, people who aren’t intimidated and can keep up. At the same time, these people need to be aiming for the same things I am. If I’m rude to people and my friend thinks it is funny then he’s not going to give me the feedback that I need to grow up.

That’s one of the reasons that my wife is such a blessing to me. She’s just as smart and strong as she needs to be, as a result we can make each other better. I’ve been married for over four years now. One thing that I’ve learned about a marriage done right is that it’s the ultimate iron sharpens iron scenario. Let me share a real example so that you can see what I mean.

I’ve been getting feedback from my wife since before we were married that she finds it very insulting when I’m condescending. More specifically, she’s pointed out that this personality train is most likely to appear in an argument or when I’m passionate about something. I disagreed vehemently the first few times that I got the feedback. Of course, since most of these instances were right in the middle of an argument it was already difficult to accept good feedback. I remember my responses – “Your Crazy!” “It’s not me, you’re just oversensitive!” “Let’s talk about something that you know more about, then I won’t sound so condescending!” (Let me tell you, that last one was a real winner.)

I hated getting that feedback. I was being told that my behavior was the opposite of the person that I wanted to be. I disagreed time and again but she consistently identified it again and again. Eventually things began to change. The examples were starting to pile up and it was getting much harder to blithely disagree. There was just too much evidence. I started working to modify the behavior. I didn’t like getting the feedback and I didn’t like seeing real evidence of a behavior that I didn’t want to have.

Over time I’ve gotten better. Every once in a while I’ll have a flare up and get feedback for it. But now I’m able to take a step back and either agree or disagree objectively rather than emotionally. It’s not perfect. Sometimes I still mess up, but overall there has been a big improvement in my behavior in this regard.

short term pain, long term gain

Here’s the trick. Edith and I agreed early on that we would not let each other get away with bad behavior just because it was a pain to deal with. Because of this, when cooler heads prevailed after arguments I would encourage her to keep giving me feedback. I know that I want to be a better person. So I ask her to do that for me, even though it makes life a little harder in the short term. I know that it pays off for me and the people around me in the long run.

That’s the key. I want it. I want it bad. Many people don’t seem to want it. I’m confident that couples have gotten divorced for far less difficult things than the feedback we’ve given each other over the last 4 years. But I’ve given her permission to help me improve. She is the iron that sharpens me and I’ll always remember it.

I believe that we all need a person like that in our lives. If we’re blessed then we will have two or three. But we have to choose them and let them in. That’s why my pastor wants groups of men to spend time with each other. Over time individuals will build real relationships with each other. They will gravitate towards each other and they will have a chance to let that person in to start smoothing their rough edges.

My question to you is this – who smooths your rough edges? Have you thanked them for it and encouraged them to continue? You should. If you can’t think of anyone then I encourage you to work at it. Who do you trust? Don’t pick somebody who is down in the dumps. Build a relationship with someone who thinks the way that you want to think. Build a closer relationship and be intentional about it. It’s a critical step for anyone who wants to be the best person they can be.

Be blessed.


Posted on February 4, 2012, in Personal Development and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. “That’s right. We don’t have to shoot ourselves in the foot as long as we’re willing to take a little sharpening.” …………………..

    Is that like bringing a knife to a gunfight or vice-versa? LOL

    You’ve thought through many things. Let me rub against you a moment so that we both might become sharper. When you think of these things do the thoughts appear as lengthy discourses or summary data that becomes expounded.

    I ask this understanding the times in which we live. Few are willing (though many are able) to read lengthy posts. And I have heard it said that a short and pointed word is the result of a wise use of vocabulary. Some of the things we post require a multitude of words. Perhaps those are the body of the many smaller posts. I consider a place where God spoke one word and the entire world was lit on fire; Jesus.

    I hope this is helpful.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful response Hiwaychristian. My writing surprises me sometimes. When I sit down to write on a topic it’s like a dam that bursts and doesn’t stop until all of the words have come out. I’m often surprised at the length.

    There are two other thoughts that are relevant here. First, I am hoping to put together a book someday. Many of these articles will be the seeds of of that. At that point i’ll be forced to edit them down and string them together, but for now, more is better.

    The second thing though is that I seem to have a really hard time creating short, punchy articles that are still meaningful. It’s like I have to keep going until I feel like the thought is complete.

    Still, I think your feedback is valid and useful. I think if I was able to do what you’ve suggesgted that it would help improve traffic and make the writing more accessible for people. Just easier to say than it is to do 🙂

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