I was recently driving on the interstate, cruising along in the left hand lane, as is my usual custom. That lanes tends to be where I spend most of my time since I often consider those numerical signs on the side of the road as “speed suggestions”, and the other lanes aren’t quite as amenable to that perspective.
This particular day, I was doing my customary cruise control speed of about 80 mph, when I casually passed a car that was in the middle lane, going perhaps 5 mph faster than it. The car was remarkable in that it was a Honda Civic that had been lowered, had a gigantic spoiler that looked like it was trying to compete with the St Louis Gateway Arch, and had ultra low-profile tires that didn’t look sporty so much as gaudy since they stuck out about 6 inches beyond the wheel well.
Not more than 10 seconds after I had passed it, the car comes flying past me, probably doing well over 100 mph. After it was maybe 100 yards ahead of me, it slowed back to its previous speed.
As soon as he flew past me, I found myself laughing out loud because it seemed so ridiculous. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized what must have been going on his mind – at some basic level, he must have felt threatened by being passed by me, even if at a rather turtle-ish rate of 5 mph faster than what he was doing. In response to that perceived threat, he then felt he had to prove something, put on some kind of display to show that he was better than me in some way.
It struck me that this phenomena goes on all the time. So frequently, we perceive things to be threats that really aren’t, and hence proceed to put on a display to show how we are better than someone or something else.
There’s an interesting story where this happens in The Bible as well. Right after the resurrection of Jesus, John records what happened when he and Peter went to look in the tomb.
“So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.” -John 20:3-4
Did you catch that? John (who is the other disciple) feels the need to leave this textual note for all readers for the rest of history that he got there first. What’s even funnier, is that it doesn’t stop there.
“And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.” -John 20:5-6a
Just in case you forgot, John wants to make sure you know that Peter was following him and not the other way around because John was there first. Surely, you must be thinking John has made his point and is done now right?
“He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed” -John 20:6b-8
This, to me, is absolutely hysterical. John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, and one of the people who wrote several of the books in the New Testament, amidst the most momentous event in human history, the resurrection of Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times mentions how he got to the tomb first before Peter. It’s like watching kids on the playground:
“I was first!”
“No you weren’t! I was first!”
“You’re just jealous I’m faster than you! Say it! I’m faster than you!”
I’ve decided to coin a term for this phenomena: peacocking.
Peacocking (verb): When one seeks to be noticed or acknowledged as superior or better than others in some way and hence creates a massive display of his/her butt feathers and then struts about hoping people notice how awesome said butt feather display is.
The great irony here is that we don’t realize just how ridiculous we look when we’re doing this. I suspect that John, in his latter years while exiled on Patmos, was probably doing a face palm when he read this part of his letter.
So if this kind of behavior looks so ridiculous, the question then becomes, why do we do this?
I think it all comes back to value.
All of us have an innate predisposition towards wanting to be valued. Consequently, each of us seek to find that sense of value and one of the simplest ways to do that is try to be better than someone else at something. Then, at least for a moment, you feel more valuable than whomever you’ve bested (like John probably thinking that since he is faster than Peter, he is more valuable than him). The problem with this though, is that you constantly have to be seeking ways to best others or display your superiority because that feeling of being more valuable for that one event doesn’t last very long.
What if there was another way to get our sense of value though. What if God had already spoken about this?
There’s a fairly simple way to tell how valuable something is to you and it comes down to this: the price you are willing to pay for it.
For example, suppose I have a stick of gum and ask you to pay five dollars for it. You would likely laugh in my face. The reason? Because a stick of gum isn’t worth five dollars to you. In other words, the price I’ve asked you to pay is far above its value to you.
Conversely, suppose I offer to sale you a brand new Porsche 911 for $10,000.00. You would likely hop on that like a rabbit on a produce box. The reason? Because you recognize that its value is far higher than the $10,000.00 I’ve asked you to pay for it.
How about the value of a human then? How about the value of you? The value of me? What price was God willing to pay for us?
Romans 5:8 says “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Quick question: how much is Jesus worth? What is his value? Well since he is God, he has infinite value. Which means that if God was willing to pay his son for us, who has infinite value, it must mean that he thinks we have infinite value. Think about it, you know the value of something by the price you’re willing to pay for it, and God was willing to pay something that had infinite value for each one of us.
So you, me, your neighbors, your friends, your family members, total strangers, and every person you’ve ever met all have infinite value.
And if you know that you have infinite value, suddenly, you no longer need to prove your value through some sort of peacocking. This was the realization I came to about the driver that went flying past me, I found myself thinking: “I really wish he knew how valuable he is.”
While it’s been easy to laugh at the examples of peacocking I gave above, maybe there are some ways you’re doing it in your life and you don’t even know it nor how ridiculous it looks when you’re doing it. Maybe you find that when someone shares a story, you have to one up it, share something superior. “You think that was a great vacation, wait until you hear about this!”
Maybe you find that you always have to win arguments. You need to be acknowledged as the victor, you can’t just let it go.
Maybe you find that you always have to win at everything, whether it’s sports, or even a family game night. You then bring it up later to people how you “won” and make sure to remind them just in case they forgot. People roll their eyes and oftentimes don’t want to play with you, but you barely notice that.
Maybe you’re always bringing up your accolades to others whether it’s that sales goal you hit that one year, that pee wee football trophy you won, that person you’re dating that’s supposedly way out of your league.
Maybe you treat your children less like children and more like trophies of how great a parent you are. You constantly brag about all your children’s accomplishments, hoping that other wills be impressed by them and ultimately impressed by you as the parent of such an overachiever.
Or maybe, you do this around matters of faith. Maybe you try to show off how morally superior you are to others “I can’t believe he did something like that, I would never do that!”. Maybe you try to show off how much Bible knowledge you have “You think that’s a great insight, I know what the original Greek word is there!” Or Maybe you find that you are constantly telling stories of your “spiritual accolades” to others – of how much money you gave away to this cause, of how much time you sacrificed to help such and such, of how you were the saint coming to save the day. All the while hoping that people will be impressed by how “good” of a person you are.
The paths to peacocking are virtually endless.
Perhaps you’ve also noticed that throughout this piece, I’ve frequently used the pronoun “we” when talking about peacocking because (surprise!) I’m not immune to doing this either.
It’s rather ironic that while these ideas have been brewing in my head over the last week, something rather incriminating has been sitting on my white board at work the entire time. Not too long ago, a coworker had written on it that her cat was cooler than mine. My response? Take a look below:
(As a side note, if you want to make sure your response is the epitome of maturity, make sure to start it with “nuhuh”. I’ve found that always helps.)
It seems that all of us can fall prey to the fowl beast known as peacocking, oftentimes completely unbeknownst to us.
However, perhaps the next time we’re tempted to pull our butt feathers out and make a big display of them, maybe, just maybe we’ll remember that there is nothing to prove – that we already have incredible, outrageous, extraordinary value.