Derek Sisterhen

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How to throw someone under the bus (in your place)

I don’t really need to be here,” he said, leaning in close so no one within earshot could hear. “My wife has no idea how to handle money, so that’s why we’re taking the class.”

Slightly shocked at the cavalier way the 60-ish year-old man was telling me this, all I could do was nod okay and then look past him to his wife sitting at a table working intently with a financial coach.

He continued. “Yeah, I’ve been out of work for about three years now. You know, downsizing.” And with the way he said “downsizing” he implied that I understood how not only he, but countless others have been victims of some silent conspiracy concocted by corporate fat cats, foreigners who work cheap, and of course – you know, of course – the government. It’s funny how much you can hear in the tone of someone’s voice.

The short conversation concluded when I learned that he and his wife have kept their finances separate since marrying some 30 plus years earlier.

One of the more intriguing parts of the Financial Coaching Program we run at Hope Community Church is learning what landed people there. For many, their monthly income is snatched up by lots of creditors and they’re ready to stop the madness. For some, they’ve just experienced some form of a life transition (divorce, career change, empty nest, etc.) and they want guidance for the days ahead. For a few, they have no idea where to begin and they need someone to show them up from down.

And every so often we attract the Victims.

Now, don’t mistake me. I’m not talking about people who have been legitimately victimized by unscrupulous financiers, a relationship, a business deal, or the like. No, I’m talking about people who hold on to some perceived injustice toward them and use that to absolve themselves from any responsibility for their futures.

Essentially, Victims – capital “V” intended – will throw everyone else under the bus for their plight before they find themselves staring at an oil pan. (We’ve encountered this type before, haven’t we?)

So, what does this have to do with my friend from the beginning?

Regardless of his wife’s ability to “handle money”, they wouldn’t be in the Financial Coaching Program if they weren’t experiencing some level of financial stress. My guess is that stress has been building to a crescendo over the last three years (since he was laid off), and it may have even exposed some other deeply rooted feelings as it grew (the separated finances illuminate potential trust issues).

There’s an opportunity for this man to take ownership of his situation and to assume leadership in his marriage, but he’s going to have to pull his wife out from under the bus. His approach must shift from blaming to encouraging; from you and me to we. This will require him to proactively invest more of his time, energy, and heart into his marriage. That’s a costly proposition, but necessary for sure.

He’s going to have to pull his previous employer out from under the bus, too. Victim-thinking is a mentality that feebly attempts to disguise insecurity. I can only imagine how it felt for this man to work for a company for years and years, only to be let go into the swirling seas of an ebbing economy.

Questions of self-worth, value, and ability must’ve clouded his mind. In an effort to answer, Why me?, he fell into the trap of asking, What is it about me that isn’t good enough anymore? Can you see how easily the defense mechanisms kick in? Rather than do business with the reality of the situation, we deceive ourselves into believing that our circumstance were, are, and will continue to be the doing of someone else. And thus a bummer of a job loss three years ago retains the power and control over this guy.

In truth, he does possess incredible value. I imagine he has a very desirable skill set and would be a great asset to any number of organizations – even if his working years are fading. I pray his attitude changes and that prospective employers see someone eager to help them rather than a bitter little boy with gray hair.

The inherent problem with throwing others under the bus is our own flawed logic that somehow we don’t belong there. You can easily tell those who take full ownership of their circumstances – for better or worse – because they have tire marks on their shirts, grease smudges on their faces, and determination in their eyes.

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