Giving Folks a Break


Some time ago, I read a life-changing book titled, Never Call Them Jerks. Though I can’t summarize the book in a phrase, for our purposes, it taught me so much about what I say about others reveals what I think about me. This week I saw a phrase that made me think of this psychological phenomenon:

Don’t compare your life to others the sun and the moon shine differently, but don’t shine until it is their time.”

I am not sure who said it originally. It was on a poster that advertised only the manufacturer but not the author. Perhaps, someday, I will find it.

In psychology, this tendency is called the fundamental attribution error. It is the tendency to attribute someone’s behavior to internal factors, such as personality, character, or disposition. It is to underestimate the influences of environment and other external factors that exert influence on another person’s behavior. In short, when others do wrong our first assumption is that they behaved badly because they are bad people.

However, when a situation or someone reveals our shortcomings, we tend to attribute them to external factors. “I was having a difficult day. I didn’t sleep much last night. Have never done that before and not sure what happened.”

The fundamental attribution error is our tendency to explain someone's behavior based on internal factors, such as personality or disposition, and to underestimate the influence that external factors, such as situational influences, have on another person's behavior.

Conversely, the fundamental attribution error is our tendency to explain our own behavior based on external factors which we overestimate and minimize or disqualify internal factors such as personality or disposition, or character.

The conclusion is when other people do bad things it’s because they’re bad people. When we do bad things it’s because we messed up.

At Grand Ave., we need to carefully evaluate our motives and intentions, our perspectives of other people, and our tendency to live unexamined lives.

We are committed to inviting all people into a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. If we think all people are bad we will be less likely to invite them. Good people who make bad choices are more likely to change because all they must change their choices. Bad people have to become good people and are less likely to change.

How we see people will ultimately affect how we treat them and how inviting we are to them. What I am describing our mental processes that are under the radar for many of us. We don’t see them, but God does and requires us to live life at this depth.

Do you? Do you live at a depth that regularly confronts you with your assumptions, your minimizations and condemnations? Can you imagine a life where you don’t behave like this? A life that regularly seeks the divine assessment on your imperfections? Can we truly live fundamental-attribution-error free?

This is the vision of the church, of a new community that celebrates a new humanity, that lives free from the barriers to deep intimacy in the familiar smokescreens that have become part of life’s scaffolding. If we open ourselves up to this love of another kind, we will find so much more in store for us than we could generate ourselves. We would be happy that the sun and the moon shine differently, at their own times, at their own radiance. We would rejoice and celebrate the difference!

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