Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

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And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews.
Nehemiah 5:1

Despite great opposition from external forces the walls of Jerusalem continued to be built:

They worked with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other, and they would not let their enemies stop them. 1

But then a different problem arises. Because of the time spent building very little time is spent growing food or earning a living. Families are hungry, taxes are owed and the Israelites begin to vie with one another for the slender resources. Civil strife, not enemy attack is what stops the work. When the people united against a common enemy they were strong; internally divided they crumble, their strength and will draining away as petty squabbling and poor behaviour (i.e. violations of Mosaic law) takes precedence.

Watching this develop and escalate, Nehemiah is appalled. He calls the leaders together and has them agree to a collective amends practice, allowing each family to redeem what is theirs and to put aside greed and internal competition. Only then can work on the walls resume.

We are only capable of great acts when working in harmony with our fellows. As soon as we compete with the very people we need to collaborate with, all is lost. Nehemiah, the thoughtful, attuned leader knew this. By now, thousands of years later, it would seem so obvious it shouldn't need explaining, yet sadly both students in schools and workers in the business world are consistently pitted against each other for rewards and other accolades, driving internal competition, suspicion, mistrust, trickery, anger, indignation, anxiety, fear and strife—all the emotions that work against the greater good. We are indeed punished by rewards.2 Until we learn to foster environments of collaboration we'll always fall into the kind of painful, and unnecessary strife described in Nehemiah 5.

1 Nehemiah 5: The work is threatened internally, David Guzik, Enduring Word, 2018
2 This is the title of a book by Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993