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Why are we so bad at living out the traits we care most about?

3 min

Jesus asked a lot of his followers. He wanted them to be the absolute best they could be, and he wasn’t ambiguous about what that looked like. In fact, he gave a whole speech on top of a mountain where he outlined pretty clearly what it looks like to live a good life — a fulfilled life. He started that speech with a few statements most commonly known as “the Beatitudes,” which basically just means “the blessings.” With eight blessings, he highlighted eight character traits that he called “blessed.” We think these are some of the traits Jesus valued most. Traits like being meek or humble, being merciful, being a peacemaker, or being pure of heart. We surveyed over 600 people, and as it turns out, the traits Jesus valued are also traits we value (at least most of us).

So, we’re almost all on the same page: mercy, humility, and peacemaking are all good things. Specifically, we see that these things are really good when the people around us display them. Whether it’s our friends, our family, our community leaders, or just strangers we interact with daily, it’s pretty intuitive to most of us that making peace, being merciful, and staying humble are important and lead to a flourishing community. Ninety-two percent of people, regardless of religious background, think that leaders should outwardly embody traits like the ones Jesus talked about.

But when we look at the world around us, for many of us, flourishing is not the word that usually comes to mind. So, there must be a gap or a disconnect. And we think there is. We all hold these values to be incredibly important, but we don’t see each other acting on them. We don’t even see ourselves acting on them. Eighty-five percent of people say they could benefit from having more mercy on those who have hurt them.

That’s almost all of us. We know that mercy is good, but we don’t have much of it to spare for others. And when we say all of us, we mean it — this is something that seems to be the case across all demographics and religious leanings. We all have problems living up to the traits we value.

So, what’s with the gap? Why is it that 87% of people think they embody the traits Jesus valued, then, when asked about specific traits, walk them back? Why don’t we see an abundance of those traits we all value in the real world? We think the answer is pretty simple: because these traits are incredibly difficult to live out. Living together well does not come naturally — we have to learn how to do it, and in that process, we have to unlearn all sorts of other habits and leanings that get in the way.

If you’ve ever tried to learn a second language, you know the struggle. Constantly mispronouncing things, forgetting the words, making a fool of yourself despite your best efforts. It’s a difficult process. But if you stick with it, it opens up a whole new way of seeing the world. Jesus’ love and the traits he cared about most are the same. If we want to get better, we have to get the reps in. Jesus called his followers to quite literally practice what they preach — not just to avoid being hypocrites but also to actually get better at the things that lead to a flourishing life.

Scripture References: Matthew 5:1-12