Flip Wilson, a comedian who many saw as “television’s first Black superstar,” became known for his hilarious skits that often included the phrase, “the devil made me do it!” People laughed as Geraldine (one of the characters Wilson often portrayed) described some fix she had gotten into or some misbehavior she had done, only to lament with great conviction that the devil had made her do it. (The following 3-minute audio recording captures Geraldine’s view of things quite well.)
Language is a powerful influence in our lives, not only in how our words affect others, but also in how our words affect us. Words affect the hearer; words affect the speaker. Our vocabulary very much becomes of a part of how we see the world. What we can put into words contributes to our forming a picture of what we see. This process is especially obvious as toddlers begin to communicate, as well as with ELL students in a school setting. As humans we see and perceive through our vocabulary.
We chuckle at Wilson’s emphasizing that the devil made him do it, but we can be just as capable of blaming something or someone else for our attitudes or behavior. “He makes me so mad,” we might hear, or “that makes me so happy” a friend will bubble. The words reflect a worldview that things outside of us control our thinking. The words confirm our belief that things outside of us make us behave one way or another.
Choice theory reminds us that other people or circumstances don’t make us do anything. Circumstances may influence our decisions, but ultimately we choose a behavior that we think will best work for us at that moment. Choice theory also reminds us that the words we commonly use can help or hinder our mental health (i.e. – our levels of contentment and optimism vs. our levels of dissatisfaction and unhappiness).
This is why Glasser loved verbs, even changing nouns to verbs as part of his desire to make a point. Instead of anger or being angry, Glasser explained how it is better to say I am angering or I am choosing to anger. It is interesting how powerful our words can be and how much they can influence our perception of things. Choice theory accepts that angering is an option, we just need to accept responsibility for it and not blame someone or something outside of us for our attitude.
On a spiritual note, Flip Wilson’s phrase – the devil made me do it – brought a passage to my mind from the little book Steps to Christ. It goes like this –
When Christ took human nature upon Him, He bound humanity to Himself by a tie of love that can never be broken by any power save the choice of man himself. Satan will constantly present allurements to incline us to break this tie—to choose to separate ourselves from Christ. Here is where we need to watch, to strive, to pray, that nothing may entice us to choose another master; for we are always free to do this. But let us keep our fixed upon Christ, and He will preserve us. Looking unto Jesus, we are safe. Nothing can pluck us out of His hand. In constantly beholding Him, we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. II Cor. 3:18 Steps to Christ, p. 72
The devil can “present allurements” and can “entice,” but although Flip Wilson says otherwise, the devil can’t make us do anything. He certainly can’t separate us from God. As Steps to Christ points out, Jesus is bound to humanity by a tie of love that no power can break! No power on earth can break it, nor can any power throughout the universe. The only way this tie can be broken is if we, as individuals, choose to break it.
Choice theory wants us to use verbs as much as possible and learn to live responsibly, that is, to take ownership of our thinking and our behaving, rather than quickly blaming others. Living responsibly has a profoundly positive effect on our relationships with others, our relationship with God, and ultimately our outlook on life.
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