Why is it that we human beings seem driven to control and to manipulate just to get our own way?

I played football in high school—left defensive tackle, as a matter of fact.  One of the perks of playing a Friday night road game was that the school treated the whole team to a steak dinner after the game. 

We would arrive at the restaurant, freshly showered and all decked out in our gold team blazers, white shirts, black pants, and black ties.  Almost invariably, the restaurant would seat us in a private room, and the dinners would already be waiting for us on the tables.

It made the wins a celebrations and the losses sting a bit less.

Now, following a game, we all had ravenous appetites, but the biggest appetite of all belonged to Manny, our big nose-guard.  And no one wanted to mess with Manny.

Manny had the habit of being one of the first of the team members to enter the dining room.  He would survey all of the steaks on the tables, pick out the biggest one, and spit on it.  “That one’s mine!” he would say.

Of course, after that, no one else would want that steak.  Time after time, Manny did that … “Spit!  That one’s mine!”

Finally Scott, our offensive right guard, got tired of it.  After one game, Manny went in as usual, but Scott was right behind him.  Sure enough, Manny picked out the biggest steak, and, “Spit!  That one’s mine!”

Just then, Scott leaned over and spit on it too.  “Spit!” he sounded, then added, “You can have it!”

That is one of my fondest high school memories.  I would hope, however, all of us have grown up some since our high school days.

You wouldn’t think so, though, to see how we run election campaigns.  I am sure that we have had mudslinging during elections all throughout the history of our country.  However, things seem to have gotten really bad recently.

Nationally, things are horrible.  And it is not any better at the local level.  Wouldn’t it be nice if each candidate would be a lady or gentleman enough to simply lay out their qualifications, state their platforms, and let the voters decide?

But no, the norm seems to be to dig up dirt on each opponent, trash them, and even lie about them just to get some kind of advantage at the polls.  Some of the tactics resorted to are downright shameful.  And that was just in the primaries!

Why is it that we human beings seem driven to control and to manipulate just to get our own way?  Why do we always feel the need to “spit on the steak?”

Great literature has struggled with this question (minus the spit and the steak) for centuries.  Shakespeare, for example, in his play Macbeth attributes the lead character’s downfall to the “fatal flaw” of ambition.  And we can go back to the ancient Greek poets to find the concept of “harmartia” which is defined as “fatal flaw” or “moral deficiency.”

It is interesting to note, however, that same Greek word “harmartia” is the word used in the New Testament for sin.

In the book of James chapter 4, verses 1 and 2, James warns us, “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?  Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.  And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.”

Then James sums it all up in verse 17, “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”

We might say, “Well, now, that’s not my problem.”

However, the Apostle John tells us, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1: 8)

You see, sin is simply selfishness.  We want our own way, and we will do anything to get it.  We are all that way, some more so than others perhaps. 

Only the grace of God can save us from that.  God save us now, before the election cycle heats up any more, please.


 (The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas.  He can be contacted at alhenager@gmail.com.)