Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.
Ever been cut off in traffic? I have. People are such jerks!
Sure, I've also cut people off in traffic. But mine was just an honest mistake because I was in a hurry...
Early this week I spent some time with other pastors in my network exploring ways to build bridges and extend God's love and invitation to the world. A guy named Terry spends his career training pastors in this, and he facilitated our conversation and gave meaningful insights. One of the concepts he shared deserves to be explored further. I couldn't remember the name of it, but after a little research I think I found it. It's called the Fundamental Attribution Error.
Fundamental Attribution Error is a psychology term, and here's what it means. When we see a certain behavior in someone else, we are quick to attribute that behavior to someone's character more than the situation that may have played a role. For example, if someone gets late to a meeting with us, we might quickly think the reason is, "he's so careless! He doesn't respect this relationship."
But if we get to a meeting late, we think, "My kid needed me at the last second and I hit 2 red lights." See that? We understand that situations play a big role in our behavior, and that helps explain our actions (whether good or bad). But we rarely give others that benefit, often assuming that their behavior is directly linked to their character more than their situation, when we do the opposite with ourselves.
When we make this error of attributing a single action to someone's core character, it makes us quick to judge and slow to understand the complexities of other people. We become less compassionate, and it hinders meaningful connections.
What's a better way? Well, we can try to give people the benefit of the doubt, for sure, and we should. But there's only one way to truly stop the temptation of FAE.
Get close enough to know more.
Let's take the driving example that I started with (that my new friend Terry used). I might call the driver that cut me off a jerk-- but if I am close enough to see a "novice driver" bumper sticker on the back of their car, I may change my tune, right? I will think, "Ah, they're just learning. I remember when I was learning. Merging was terrifying."
We've got more information now... and compassion flows a bit more readily because of it. If a bumper sticker like that can help with our compassion and connection, how much greater knowing a person's story would be!
As disciples, our highest calling is to love God and love our neighbors. Love and understanding are absolutely linked, so this is a chance to help us look more like Jesus in his radical love, welcome, and grace. Let's increase proximity to those whom we casually judge from the outside. We'll find they are complex and worthy of love, just as we are.
When we make our own mistakes, we don't want others to decide that is the sum of who we are. So we honor the truth of our own value when we refuse to define other people by a moment that we may not fully understand. When we move closer, we see more layers, and compassion follows.
All it takes is just a little information to build a lot more connection. This is true for all of life, not simply when we see someone's rough moments. So let's keep seeking understanding, and let's keep asking Jesus to help us see beyond our human tendencies. We want to gaze on others with the eyes of Christ himself, who is within us.
New friendships will emerge, new bridges will be built, and new glimpses of God's kingdom will be had as we get close enough to know more.
Jesus, help me learn more stories so that I can have an increased capacity for compassion and connection today.