Before people used Enneagram types or extroversion temperaments to describe themselves, personalities were described using ancient medical terms: sanguine, melancholy, phlegmatic, and choleric. Maybe you’ve seen the words used as nouns or used descriptively about a person.
Sanguines are social butterflies. They can carry on a conversation with anyone, anytime. They’ve never met a stranger, because they’re friends as soon as they’ve met. Sanguines love to tell stories, and those stories are usually embellished and may seem to their melancholy listeners to be purposefully exaggerated to make them more exciting. But they aren’t intentionally grandstanding. That’s just how they remember it. The Apostle Peter had a sanguine personality (is there ever a time in the Gospels when he wasn’t talking or in the middle of the action?).
Sometimes we misremember the past – or perhaps put an interpretive lens over it, like the child in a poignant scene of the movie Inside Out, realizing that many of her happy memories were originally sad times that she remembered differently. We often remember things better than they actually were. We want things to be like they were in the “good old days.”
There were times when the disciples probably misremembered their faith like that. Peter probably loved to tell stories remembering the time when Jesus asked them to get a coin out of a fish’s mouth to pay their taxes. Good times, Peter, good times. We laughed and laughed about that one!
The memories weren’t always good, though. There was another time that Peter remembered. Mark recorded it this way: “Immediately a rooster crowed a second time and Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, ‘Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.’ And he began to weep.”
The word remember in this verse is the kind of remembering that includes the act of weighing well and considering. This isn’t a remembering a funny story moment. It’s not an embellished telling of the good old days. This is a remembrance of grief; a recollection of shame; a calling to mind the weight of sin.
If we do not consider and weigh well the mistakes that we have made, we cannot learn and grow. In change management studies, this is referred to as double-loop learning. Single-loop learning solves a problem. The problem may recur, but we can alleviate the effects of the problem for now. Double-loop learning seeks the cause of the problem. “Solving problems is important. But if learning is to persist, managers and employees must also look inward. They need to reflect critically on their own behavior, identify the ways they often inadvertently contribute to the organization’s problems, and then change how they act” (Argyris, 1991, p. 100).
In the midst of tragedy, loss, hardship, or violence, practicing double loop learning helps us to remember how we got where we are, how to weigh well the fundamental issues that are preventing change, and how to consider the ways our behavior must change to impact future outcomes.
Often we only think of applying this to ourselves. Like Peter, we weep. Later, as individuals, we must move on. But double-loop learning applies to social ills as well. The sins of the past are being revisited on generations. As a society, we need to weigh well and consider past mistakes we have made. We must look inward and then change our behavior in acknowledgement that our intentional or unintentional acts contribute to the problems that arise.
Lately, flags have been at half-staff more than not. With each tragic event, there is a call to change laws or pursue justice for the individuals lost. That solves an immediate problem, but double-loop learning requires more than weeping and moving on. We need to practice the kind of remembrance that weighs well and considers the power of God to change us and what can happen if we engage with that Power to change the future. Peter remembered more than the good times. He remembered more deeply, weighing his decision in light of Jesus’ prediction. The consideration of his mistakes led to repentance, which allowed him to change his future. Today, we don’t remember Peter as the washout; we remember him as the Rock.
When we look at the tragedy around us, we can practice double-loop learning and weigh well our responsibility for the tragedy as well as our responsibility to effect change. An example is David, who considered and weighed well his shortcomings, and his reflections can help us to see the double-loop learning pattern. Like David (Psalm 30), we dig deeper and seek out our flawed assumptions. When we consider why we do what we do, we can ask God for help and God will heal us. This reflection and healing process led David from despair to gratitude, and can do the same for us. If we then act out of that gratitude, as we give thanks to his holy name, he will show his favor. He can turn our mourning into dancing, gird us with gladness, and return thankfulness to our hearts and minds as we work together to turn this very day into the “good old days” about which we long to tell stories.
Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching smart people how to learn. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/1991/05/teaching-smart-people-how-to-learn