NOVEMBER 7, 1999

[The reading that preceded this sermon was the story of Rabbi Eisek and the Hidden Treasure in Martin Buber’s Hasidism and modern man, New York: Harper and Row, 1958]

In Martin Buber’s story, Rabbi Eisek discovered through his journey that the greatest treasure lay under his stove at home. Most of us know already – at least understand at some level – that true and lasting happiness doesn’t come from the treasures found "out there" – from possessions or beauty or a winning personality or fame or even apparent success. Yes, you can possess these things and be happy, but there is no necessary correlation.

Our secular American culture is fixated on material things or personality traits as sources of happiness. It tells us through attractive advertising that the new SUV or the large, beautifully decorated home or Caribbean cruise will make our lives complete. We’re also the quick-fix society. We look for quick and easy solutions to personal problems, attending one day or weekend seminars and buying books on the 10 easy steps to achieve happiness, to get thin or rich, to learn how to communicate more effectively, to have better marriages or brighter, better adjusted children. We envy the big lottery winner even though we’ve heard stories of lottery winners whose lives were ruined by quick riches. We spend our lives on journeys seeking the Great Treasure, although we’re sometimes not sure what that treasure is. If we do find our treasure, oftentimes we are disappointed. Our problems aren’t solved. Our void isn’t filled. We seek for treasures out there in another city, when the real treasure we seek is under our stove at home.

Recently, I read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, written in 1989. Maybe some of you here this morning know him better than I do, especially those of you in business, since much of his work has focused on business leadership. Don’t be fooled by the title, thinking that it’s just another slick self-help book. Its subtitle, Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, hints that this book might be something else. In fact, it is. It’s about changing ourselves – at the core of our being. It’s about growing and maturing as we go out to seek our personal treasures.

The biography inside the back cover begins: "Stephen R. Covey is an internationally respected leadership authority, family expert, teacher, organizational consultant…" It goes on to say that he’s written several acclaimed books, including this one, is in demand as a speaker and has received several awards and honorary degrees.

Let’s come back to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey tells us in the course of his work, he has read a great deal of American literature focusing on success, some of it dating back to 1776. He "began to feel more and more that much of the success literature of the past 50 years was superficial. It was filled with social image consciousness, techniques and quick fixes."(18)

"In stark contrast," he writes, "almost all the literature in the first 150 years or so focused on what could be called the Character Ethic as the foundation for success—things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule. Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is representative of that literature… The Character Ethic taught that there are basic principles of effective living, and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character.

"But shortly after World War I the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to what we might call the Personality Ethic. Success became more a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques, that lubricate the processes of human interaction. This Personality Ethic essentially took two paths: one was human and public relations techniques, and the other was positive mental attitude… [Some of these approaches] were clearly manipulative, even deceptive, encouraging people to use techniques to get other people to like them, or to fake interest in the hobbies of others to get out of them what they wanted, or to use the ‘power look,’ or to intimidate their way through life" (19). Covey granted that some of this new literature referred to the Character Ethic, but mainly gave it lip service. It’s not that the elements or techniques of the Personality Ethic aren’t sometimes beneficial. They are often essential for success. But without the foundation of a good character, human relationships in all areas of life will suffer. One’s basically flawed character will shine through in the long run.

"Okay," you might say. "There are lots of phoney, superficial and manipulative people running around. I know a few myself. But I think of myself as basically a good, honest person." Now I believe that even though we individually might fight against the flaws of the modern culture, it’s an uphill battle to do it alone. Besides needing allies in the battle, we need a different paradigm (a model or map) to understand the social territory. Without a new social paradigm, we are still in the dark and are subject to problems with sustained, long-term human relationships: in marriage or other intimate partnerships, with children, with friendships, and in our work lives. So all of us could use some help in this area of understanding our social paradigm.

In case your not familiar with paradigms, a simple way to understand them is to see them as maps. They aren’t the territory, but explain the territory. A shift in one’s paradigm is a fundamental shift in the way you view the world. An example will make this clearer.
"For Ptolemy, the great Egyptian astronomer, the earth was the center of the universe. But Copernicus created a paradigm shift, and a great deal of resistance and persecution as well, by placing the sun at the center. Suddenly, everything took on a different interpretation." (29) It’s also the shift that Rabbi Eisek experienced when he followed his dream, listened to the captain of the guard in Prague and learned that what he was looking for was at home in Cracow all along.

Covey writes that the paradigm of our society is the outside-in paradigm, based on the Personality Ethic. Our strength is borrowed from the things outside of us. The alternative for Covey is the inside-out paradigm, one based on the fundamental principles that govern human effectiveness. He calls these the natural laws in the human dimension, those inherent in the human experience which cannot be broken.. They’re the "objective reality" or the territory, not the map.

Covey’s fundamental principles reflect our own Unitarian Universalist principles. He lists: Fairness, out of which our whole concept of equity and justice is developed. Integrity and honesty, which create the foundation of trust which is essential to cooperation and long-term personal and interpersonal growth. Human dignity, which hardly needs explanation. Service, the idea of making a contribution. Others are potential and growth, the idea that we are embryonic and can grow, developing our innate talents and gifts. He concludes with patience, nurturance and encouragement.

These principles "are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value. They’re fundamental. They’re essentially unarguable because they are self-evident." (35) Operating by these principles builds personal strength and maturity – and interpersonal trust and cooperation. Violating them does the opposite.

In all his experiences of working with people, Covey saw the results of the outside-in paradigm… the "unhappy people who feel victimized and immobilized, who focus on the weaknesses of other people and the circumstances they feel are responsible for their own stagnant situation. I’ve seem unhappy marriages where each spouse wants the other to change, where each is confessing the other’s ‘sins,’ where each is trying to shape up the other." (43)

The principle-centered, character-based, inside-out approach is real and earnest. It addresses the very core of what it means to be human. It is a higher level of thinking, allowing us greater, deeper insight. Inside-out is "a continuing process of renewal based on the natural laws that govern human growth and progress. It’s an upward spiral of growth that leads to progressively higher forms of responsible independence and effective interdependence."

The "inside-out" approach means starting with the self first. How do we do begin? By changing our habits. Covey says that "our character, basically, is a composite of our habits… [These] are powerful factors in our lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily express our character and produce our effectiveness… or ineffectiveness." (46) He talks about their "tremendous gravity pull" and therefore how breaking them is so difficult, requiring more than a little willpower. " ‘Lift off’ takes a tremendous effort, but once we break out of the gravity pull, our freedom takes on a whole new dimension." (47)

His method is what he labels The Seven Habits, good habits which move us from a position of immature dependency to independence to mature interdependence. The first three habits focus on developing the self, what he calls the area of private victory. Within this area a person moves toward independence. The next three habits focus on interpersonal relationships, which he calls the area of public victory. The seventh habit is renewing the self. Work on the private habits must precede the public habits, but the process is a continuous one.

There isn’t time to review all of these habits. In fact, I have enough material here to write another sermon or two. I’ll begin at the beginning and will just address the first two habits.

Habit 1 is perhaps the most difficult habit to develop. One thing that makes us uniquely human is our awareness. We are not our feelings or our moods or even our thoughts. We can reflect on these things, which separates us from the animal world. Despite the limitations of genetics, our early family environment, and our present environment, we have free choice. We’re not the dogs in Pavlov’s experiments. We can decide to some extent how we respond to the stimulus in our environment. We also have imagination, conscience and independent will. We as human beings are responsible for our own lives.

All this makes Habit 1 possible, to be a proactive person. Reactive people are people who are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by their environment. "Proactive people," Covey writes, "are driven by values—carefully thought about, select and internalized values. [They] are still influenced by external stimuli, whether physical, social or psychological. But their response to the stimuli… is a value-based choice or response… In the words of Gandhi, ‘They cannot take away our self respect if we do not give it to them.’" (72)

Secondly, human beings can take initiative. We can create our circumstance. "Taking initiative does not mean being pushy, obnoxious, or aggressive. It does mean recognizing our responsibility to make things happen." (75) It means being creative, imagining alternatives, thinking positively. Our language represents the way we think… reactively or proactively. For example, reactive language is: "That’s just the way I am." Proactive language is: "I can choose a different approach." Reactive language is: "I can’t, I must, if only." Proactive language is: "I choose, I prefer, I will." Reactive people feel victimized by circumstances and out of control. Proactive people feel empowered. They can subordinate feelings to values.

Proactive people are realists, knowing they can only affect a small area around them, maybe only themselves at first. This is called one’s Circle of Influence, as opposed to one’s Circle of Concern – which could be as broad as the whole world. "Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase." (83) Proactive people have strength and character. They admit mistakes. They make and keep commitments. Through honesty, compassion and courage, they positively influence more and more people around them. They are persons of integrity and their light shines forth from within.

The first of The Seven Habits may in fact be the most difficult to develop, but it lays the foundation for all the rest. It requires serious study of your personal situation, deep reflection and meditation. It may require some tough self-examination about self-defeating habits of victimization, evasion of responsibility and reactivity. We know it requires hard work to break old habits and develop healthy new ones, but it provides the "lift off" Covey described.

Now, briefly about Habit 2, which Covey labels "Beginning with the End in Mind." This "is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things." What do you really value in life? What goals are most important to you? Being a more generous or honest person? Better relations with your partner and family? "We are in need of a vision or destination and a compass (a set of principles or directions) and less in need of a road map. We often don’t know what the terrain ahead will be like or what we will need to go through it; much will depend on our judgment at the time. But an inner compass will always give us direction." Covey’s suggests we develop a personal mission statement. The goals must be realistic and begin with one’s limited Circle of Influence. "This mission statement should focus on what you want to be (character) and do (contributions and achievements) and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based." (106) It can be as short as a few sentences or even a list with a few items.

Creating a holistic mission statement requires using both the left and right sides of your brain, using both the left hemisphere of the brain – or logical and verbal side – and the right hemisphere – or intuitive, creative side. We can do things to help free the creative, intuitive right side, which is normally underused by many people in our society. Covey suggests visualization exercises such as imagining your life after retirement … or imagining what you want your next career to look like… or your 25th and then your 50th wedding anniversary.

Covey contends that "A personal mission statement based on correct principles becomes … a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives. It empowers individuals with the same timeless strength in the midst of change." (108) It becomes part of the changeless core within yourself, your sense of self "of who you are, what you are about and what you value." It will be the source of your security, guidance, wisdom and power.