The Power of the Personal Inventory

One of my favorite parts of the 12 Step movement is something called a daily inventory.  The daily inventory was born from the 10th Step which reads: “We continued to take personal inventory, and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”  That beautiful and transformative Step runs counter to the way so many in the world operate these days.  Let me give you an example of what I mean.

When an individual gets into a fight with another, for instance, it’s very natural for the individual to focus on what the other person said or did that set the individual off.  The individual then spends a ridiculous amount of time and energy re-living the way in which the other wronged the individual.  In placing their focus on the other person, the individual overlooks the ways the individual’s own words or behaviors contributed to the conflict.

It took me a while to warm up to the 10th Step.  That because I – like many – would MUCH rather play the role of “the victim” in a conflict rather than consider the ways in which I stepped into the role of “the perpetrator” as well.

So what helped me warm to the 10th Step?

As I stepped back and watched the dynamics of most conflicts, I’ve begun to understand why we have such a hard time overcoming our differences these days.  When we put the bulk of our focus on the ways in which we feel wronged – and spend our time and energy lobbing nasty accusations at the other party, that’s a recipe for intractability.  For that dynamic means both parties are immediately put on the defensive.  Each party becomes obsessed with first defending themselves (and then proving why the other party was wrong) – that it becomes impossible for anyone to get at the heart of the problem (which, let’s be honest, both parties contributed to in most cases).

When an individual breaks that long-standing pattern and accepts responsibility FIRST for their piece of the conflict, the dynamic of the situation begins to change.  These days, I’m trying hard to begin tough conversations with sentences like these: “You know John.  I’ve stepped back and looked at the situation and realized that I contributed a great deal to the conflict by not taking the time to listen to what you were saying.  And consequently, I reacted to what I thought you had said and not what you really had said.  I’m sorry I did that.”

Such an opening makes it more likely that John might respond by saying something like, “I appreciate you saying that Craig.  And I need to say that I helped things get out of hand as well.  When I heard you misrepresent my position, I got mad and started interrupting you.  I never gave you a chance to share your perspective.  I’m sorry about that as well.”

Of course, that response doesn’t always follow.  But you would be surprised at how frequently it does!

This approach might seem common-sensical in the context of personal relationships.  I believe the principle can also hold when one deals with larger social issues as well.

Take the example of the six workers killed in the Amazon warehouse located in Illinois – and the ten workers killed at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Kentucky in the tornadoes last week.

The way the story is typically discussed, much of the blame for the deaths is laid at the feet of the two businesses involved.  People talk about how things would have turned out differently if only the companies had acted in the interests of their workers.  Believe me, that’s where my head was at first.

After a few days, however, I’ve taken time to look at my role in all of this.  And I didn’t like what I found.  Let me tell you why I say that.

One of the primary reasons employers push their employees so hard these days is that consumers are becoming increasingly aggressive about getting their products at the lowest possible cost in the shortest possible time.  These expectations (combined with a desire to generate the biggest possible profit, of course) lie at the heart of what pushes companies to act in ways that keep their employees on job sites when those job sites are threatened by natural disasters.

As I looked in the mirror this week, I realized I am one of those consumers that pushes companies to deliver their products as cheaply and as quickly as humanly possible.  I spend a good amount of time scouring the Internet – looking for the cheapest price for a product.  And when I find it, I switch gear and look for free shipping that comes as quickly as possible.  In other words, my own actions lie at the root of the dynamic that puts companies in the position of driving their employees too hard – and putting those employees at risk.

As a result of my daily inventories, I’m asking myself questions that take me out of my comfort zone.  “Will I be willing to pay a little more for a product if it comes from a small business or corporation that has a record for treating their employees well?”  “Will I be willing to wait a week to receive my product and paying for shipping, instead of demanding free 2-day shipping?”

I know it feels better to process the news when I look at situations like those in Illinois and Kentucky and simply point my finger at others in self-righteous anger or indignation.  But sadly, I know that when I do it plays into a situation where things are less likely to change.  The accused will simply spend millions hiring lawyers to fight the inevitable lawsuits, and corporations will spend even more on lobbyists to protect laws that minimize the rights of workers.  And sadly, little time or more is spent on those things that could solve the problem.

When I begin to accept the role that my actions contribute to the way things play out in the world, I begin to realize that things CAN begin to shift quicker than most of us would think possible.  When I change my patterns of consumptions and re-claim my power in the process, I don’t have to wait for court cases to be settled or laws to be passed.  Corporations that would normally spend years fighting lawsuits and policy changes will begin to adapt their business practices quickly when they see the spending habits of consumers like myself change.  Once we’ve taken our own inventory (and addressed what needs to be changed in our own lives), then we can work together to challenge the corporations and companies to do their part as well.

Here’s hoping that more and more of us will adopt the practice of taking a daily inventory.  That simple act can – and WILL – change the world: one life – one inventory – at a time.

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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