Confession time. By nature, I am incredibly judgmental. Not only that, I am also a professional assumer. As you can imagine, the combination of those things can make me react pretty harshly at times. Grace isn’t my natural reaction to people and situations. And to make things worse my husband, Bryan, is known for having good perspective. People seek him out in life, work and (eventually) at home to help see the big picture and the different influences at play. His natural reaction is to step back, evaluate the situation from all angles and make an informed, yet humble assessment of the situation. My natural inclination is to take a quick look at a situation, assume things to be true based on the little that I know and declare myself judge over what is right or wrong with the situation, even if I’m not involved.
So as you can imagine, I often times don’t see what is going on around me very clearly. The lenses in which I see people and situations tend to be pretty smudged. It is a discipline for me to see the real truth, not my assumed truth, of a situation or person.
Last week I wrote about ways that we can see God more clearly. I want to share a couple practices that I have to use on a daily basis to see the people and situations around me with more clarity.
First, I have to pause and seek perspective.
I am very visceral. So when I am reacting out of assumption or judgement, my body seems to follow suit. I tend to sit up straight, talk a bit louder, get a little warmer and start being a bit too animated. As much as I don’t like that this is my body’s natural response, it does help. It helps me know when it is time to step back, evaluate and take a pause. When I find myself reacting that way, I am learning to take a deep breath, slump back down in my seat and listen. When that happens, the first question I am trying to ask myself, is “why?” Why am I reacting this way to this person? Am I reacting to this person because I really feel that strongly about what is happening? Or am I actually projecting my emotions about something else onto this person? I can tell you that 90% of the time when I react to Bryan, it has nothing to do with him – it has something to do with an unsolved issue from earlier in the day.
It may have nothing to do with you. You might just be truly struggling with the person in front of you. So after you check the state of your heart, start by asking questions. Ask people about their life. Hear their stories. Get the big picture. After hearing people’s stories, I am so much more quick to respond with grace. Their negative, rude, awkward or judgmental interactions generally come from a place of insecurity or baggage from their past.
Maybe even before asking about their stories, ask about their day. Ask about their week. What is going on that could be causing their negativity? Are they struggling at work? Do they have a sick family member? Context is everything. I recently had someone respond to me in a way that felt really out of left field. My initial reaction was to respond in defensiveness. I wanted to show them that I was right and they obviously needed to work on their reactions. Instead, I took a step back, took a deep breath and started listening. I started asking questions. And when I did that I understood why they reacted that way. Knowing that made it easy for me to respond with grace.
I was challenged recently to ask myself this question throughout the day: “Could I be wrong here?” My feisty temperament and tendency towards black and white thinking lend me to think that I am right all the time. I assume my suggestions are right and my opinions are wise, people just need time to come around to my ideas. I often feel this way in a group setting. When you are working with a team you are going to encounter a large variety of opinions. If I’m not careful, after I share my ideas, I can easily tune out in group discussions. Why do I need to keep listening, when the solution, my solution, has already been spoken? That sounds extreme, and it is, but I don’t think I am alone in my thinking. When you find yourself frustrated or irritated about people and opinions around you, ask yourself this question, “Could I be wrong here?” and then listen – truly listen. If I’m honest, I am often wrong.
Pausing and seeking perspective is just the beginning. But this week as we start to dig-in, if you feel yourself starting to react out of assumption, defensiveness or judgement, start by asking yourself this question, “Why am I reacted this way to that person?” Check the condition of your heart. Do you have unsolved issues from the past or even today that are causing you react this way? Start asking questions about their life and about their day. I think you will be surprised by the grace that wells up in you as you understand their context. And then keep this question on the forefront of your mind “Could I be wrong here?” Like I said, I can’t speak for you, but more often than not – I’m wrong.
Let’s keep digging. People are complex, we all come with unique experiences and baggage from the past. It’s not easy to see people with clarity. Stayed tuned for more next week as we continue to explore ways that we can see the people for who they truly are – image bearers of God.