Every so often I will hear or use the phrase I chose for today’s title, but there are more than a few metaphors that we may hear or use without information about the origin of that phrase. Choosing this phrase as a title meant I wanted to be sure the way I used it (a difficult situation) was accurate. It was fascinating to learn and before going further, let me share what I learned from The Phrase Dictionary:
“A wicket is, of course, a playing surface used in cricket. This phrase is a direct allusion to the difficulty of playing on a wet and sticky pitch. The earliest citations of the expression refer specifically to cricket…July 1882”
That bit of random information might not be a big deal, but a wordsmith likes to have a handle on the words he or she chooses to write.
The “sticky wicket” that has been occupying my thought since reading the latest book I reviewed (Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath) focuses on our struggle with owning an issue or problem. It’s one of the things the author lists that keeps us thinking by reacting to things (downstream thinking) instead of using systems thinking and processes to anticipate potential problems before they actually show up needing to be solved.
Dan Heath describes this “sticky wicket” issue this way:
“A lack of ownership, though, means that the parties who are capable of addressing a problem are saying, That’s not mine to fix.”
As I consider the issue, I think it has been around since the beginning of mankind (as in the Garden of Eden). When the serpent met Adam and Eve in that first garden and lied about the prohibition of eating from a certain tree that God had told them, Eve fell prey to the serpent’s wiles. Truth be told, Adam was right there and didn’t jump into that scene to keep Eve from yielding. Then when God asked why he, Adam, ate from the tree, he blamed Eve.
Both Adam and Eve were disobedient, and both were responsible and should have owned the problem, but instead Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve.
For as old as this story is, if you think for a few minutes I think you can recall more than a few examples where something similar takes place. A handy one is always how several children in a family get caught in not following a family rule and who owns the truth that they all knew the rule. But sadly, it doesn’t stop in childhood, in the home, or on the school yard. It happens in most any adult organization, business, or company and we keep using the excuse.
Sometimes we use it out of self-interest. Sometimes we might feel it’s not our place to handle it for any number of reasons. We see it over and over again on the nightly news in one story after another. We see it in politics at every level and the excuse never seems to go out of style no matter what reason we choose for using it.
We hear it when there is a disagreement and we believe we have been offended by someone and then choose not to be the one to initiate a conversation with the person because “it’s their problem to fix.”
One glitch about that is that if I see the problem or issue and the Lord has revealed it to me, does that mean I can ignore that knowledge and not respond to handle the responsibility or at least my part in it?
Relationally speaking there are very few times when an issue or problem doesn’t have responsibility on both sides. Why? Because each person is responsible for his or her own action or words he or she says as well as whether they are listening carefully to what has been said. Much of the time responsibility is shared, but we have this “sticky wicket” that happens – we are either prone to not believe it is ours or we take all the responsibility most all of the time.
Maybe it starts with giving up that old “blame game” we are so good at. Perhaps it is laying down our pride of believing we are in the right and have no ownership. Possibly it’s not acknowledging we might have the skill or gifting to see what’s possible and need to put our indifference and complacency to death.
Dan Heath points out a better idea:
“I choose to fix this problem, not because it’s demanded of me, but because I can, and because it’s worth fixing.”
Imagine how this attitude (if it spread) might alter so many aspects of daily life.
As I have reflected on this, a list of biblical references have come to mind that (if accepted and internalized) might make this possible. Here are just a few:
“Every believer is ultimately responsible for his or her own conscience.”
Galatians 6:5 (TPT)
“For one day we will all be openly revealed before Christ on his throne so that each of us will be duly recompensed for our actions done in life, whether good or worthless.”
2 Corinthians 5:10 (TPT)
But perhaps the story Jesus tells in Luke 10:30-37 (NIV) illustrates this kind of self-less responsibility best:
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Clearly, the Samaritan didn’t see this as a “sticky wicket” issue, but it isn’t just a great story. Jesus tells us to go and do likewise – own the problem or issue instead of saying “It’s not mine to fix.”