There’s this theory called the broken windows theory.
It was developed around the field of criminology.
It was meant to try and prevent mass vandalism and more serious crimes from occurring.
The theory revolves around a simple idea, explained here by the authors of the theory,
“Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.” The Atlantic, March 1982
So the key to preventing vandalism and crime is to take care of the little things before they become a problem. Things like painting over graffiti, repairing broken windows, and enforcing misdemeanor punishments are key to preventing a spread of something much worse.
I like this idea.
I don’t know about the criminal world, but it makes a lot of sense in our personal lives. There are broken windows in our lives that, if left in disrepair, can lead to a breakdown.
A messy desk prevents you from getting things done. A dirty house gets dirtier, and you think you can’t possibly clean it up. Phone calls you haven’t returned lead to lost friends.
All these things can be prevented by fixing the broken windows. Clean up your desk once a week. Clean the house every other week. Call your friends back within 24 hours.
The theory holds true in our spiritual lives well.
These broken windows are disguised as “small” things. Things like pornography, lying, a loose tongue, or gossiping.
We begin by telling ourselves it’s not a big deal. But before we know it, we’ve become like the criminal in the theory. We notice a breakdown in one area of our lives, and we start blurring the lines in one more place, and then another, and then another.
Take pornography for instance. It’s literally everywhere these days. So what’s the harm in taking a look every now and then? Since it gives you satisfaction without connection, you’ll always be left wanting more. So you start to look a little more. And then a little more. After a while, the computer doesn’t really seem to do it. And you find yourself looking to fill that void in other ways. Maybe through a coworker or a prostitute.
Where does it stop? Maybe with the end of a marriage, or a relationship. Things like pornography can tear down lives.
It’s much easier to repair a broken window than to rebuild an entire house.
But repairing the broken windows means a few things.
It means you have to be disciplined, determined, and focused.
Over and over again I learn that much of what makes a successful life, professionally or spiritually, is discipline.
Those that succeed are the ones who are willing to do the small things.
The seemingly small things can either be addressed or overlooked. Addressing them is not only more painful, but it takes time. But taking this comparably small amount of time on the front end prevents you from spending a large amount of time repairing something down the line.
We have to be determined to fix broken windows in our lives. Like those focused on preventing crime, we have to be focused on preventing a shattered life.
It will take determination because when we look around, we’ll find we have many more broken windows than we thought. Thinking of repairing each of them seems impossible.
But it can be done.
Take them on one by one.
Focus on the immediate challenge instead of the overall challenge.
(Focus is perhaps the most important. Discipline and determination will be misguided without the right focus. Our focus must be on God and living a life that glorifies Him. Without that, you’ll never see the broken windows in the first place.)
When we have the proper focus, fixing the windows seems a small task in comparison to what He gave and what we’re working towards.
Are you neglecting the broken windows in your life?