I love the idea behind Pixar’s film, Inside Out. The premise of the film involves a committee of emotions inside your head who process events and make decisions. How many of us resonate with the idea that there are little characters inside us, jockeying to be heard?
I think we resonate with this idea because there are competing voices inside our heads constantly! They are not only voices of our competing self-interest, but also the voices of those around us who are speaking into our decisions and influencing our future direction.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the kinds of voices we need to evict and those we need to give the megaphone to. After reading those posts, a reader emailed me. He wrote, “After reading your latest posts, I went and made some big changes to my Twitter account and who I choose to follow. I was surprised at how many people I was following that consistently offered up negativity and cynicism. Your posts helped me to see that I don’t need that.”
I’m glad this man realized the voices we listen to shape our character and the trajectory of our future. That lesson is not a new insight, though. In fact, it is rooted in a story of a young king told in the Old Testament.
King David increased the size of Israel’s territory to its zenith through military conquest. David’s son, Solomon, enjoyed the fruit of his father’s labor, becoming the wisest and most wealthy king of his day. Near the end of Solomon’s reign, one of his sons, Jeroboam, rebelled and fled to Egypt. With Jeroboam exiled, another son named Rehoboam was named king after Solomon’s death.
In a pivotal moment, recorded in 1 Kings 11, Rehoboam had an opportunity to define his legacy. His brother, Jeroboam, had returned from exile and brought a request from the people to lighten the burden of taxes. In processing the request, Rehoboam sought wisdom from two different groups. One group was his father’s elders. They had watched his father rule for forty years, seeing the good and the bad of Solomon’s leadership. In a spirit of caution and restraint, they counseled Rehoboam to grant the people’s request, a move that would endear them to Rehoboam. The other group Rehoboam spoke with was his peers. They did not know the past like the elders. They urged Rehoboam to throw off restraint and increase taxes, to demand a greater burden than even Solomon exacted.
Ultimately, Rehoboam decided to increase taxes, which split the nation of twelve tribes. His brother, Jeroboam, took the northern territory and ten tribes of Israel. Rehoboam took the south and two tribes. Neither nation was ever able to recapture their former glory; both were later conquered and destroyed.
Rehoboam’s decision was powerful. The voices he listened to shaped his choices and the trajectory of an entire nation’s future. He underestimated the impact of his choice with terrible consequences.
It is incredibly difficult to discern the voices we need to engage when we’re constantly processing the input of others. Every day, we read other people’s take on our lives, whether or not we want to. Whenever we write a tweet, post on Facebook, or share a photo on Instagram, we’re opening the door for people we know (and don’t know) to share their perspective. We live in an age when it often feels like everyone is empowered and justified to comment on our life choices.
How do we filter the voices we listen to and make wise choices that lead us to a thriving future? I believe the following four questions can help us find a way.
Who are the voices that have the most impact on your life?
In Rehoboam’s life, the voices of his peers made the biggest impact. If you reflect on the decisions you’ve made recently and the challenges you’ve navigated, whose names and faces come to mind? A quick check of your call, text, email, or message history might help you build a list.
What does the impact of those voices look like, in terms of your character and your future?
We become like those we listen to most closely. Consider the character of the people whose voices matter most to you. Do you want to become more like them in the future? Do you want your life to look like theirs? If you continue down the path your recent decisions have made possible, you can see a likely future.
Which voices should you empower and engage regularly?
Use your imagination for a minute. If you moved to a new city and abandoned connection with everyone you knew before the move, what kind of people would you get to know? What kind of person would you go to for guidance and wisdom? Now shift your focus back to the present. What voices in your life have those qualities? Those are the voices you need to empower and engage.
Which voices should you begin disengaging?
One of my favorite Facebook features is blocking a person. I can keep them as a “friend” but if their posts become something I want to disengage, I block them from my feed. If only real life worked as simply as managing my Facebook feed! It is incredibly difficult to renegotitate long-established relationships. But if our character and future are on the line, we have to lean into those hard conversations, which help us to become the people God created us to be.
Rehoboam’s mistake is a reminder to choose our influences wisely. Our future depends on who and what we listen to today.