“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were….”
I recently read an article in the Business section of the AJC entitled; “Why we struggle to understand co-workers.” The article was an interview with Heidi Halvorson who has written the book; “No One Understands You and What to Do About It.” She states that “there is an often-awkward collision between perception and reality. We see ourselves a certain way and assume everyone else sees us that way as well. But that’s rarely the case…And what we see in others tends to be off base as well. The bottom line is this: We kind of stink at understanding each other, and that causes a lot of problems in the workplace….We make assumptions about people, often based on first impressions. We group people into categories – smart, chatty, untrustworthy – and then stick to that categorization even if it doesn’t truly fit the person in question.”
While the article is about the workplace environment, I couldn’t help but see this dynamic played out regularly in the life of the church. We are called to love one another, which by definition requires us to respect, be interested in, and care about the other person. Honestly, all too often our relationships are pretty shallow and I suspect that Halvorson is right, predicated on inaccurate assumptions about who people really are. Do we really know each other? More importantly, do we care to know each other?
Halvorson presents three steps to improving the way we perceive others that are a good starting point for us in the church as well.
1. Don’t judge people too quickly.
2. Commit to being fair.
3. Watch out for “confirmation bias,” looking only for things in others that confirm your impression of them.
Halvorson ends the interview remarking that taking these steps is a “skill that requires humility and practice, but it’s logically worth the time.” I would advocate that it is not just worth the time but that it is the truer work of love. Genuine love values the other person enough to really want to know who they are. That is the ultimate respect and appreciation of a person. That is what agape is. It is also what Jesus said was our number one task as Christians and the church, to love God and to love our neighbor. Let’s go to work!