My Thoughts for the MonthFeb 25, 2021 02:08PM ● By Dr. Rodger
As with criticism and judgment, we must guard against forming false impressions, as they can undermine our best intentions.
We make assumptions all the time. We see someone asking for spare change and we assume they want it to buy drugs or alcohol. You may even assume he/she was too lazy to work. We see a man driving a fancy car and we assume he is wealthy and happy. We see a poor woman and we assume she is unhappy.
What do these assumptions do for us? They determine our actions. When you encountered the begging man you probably claimed you had no money, when in truth you had a pocket full. You may have admired the wealthy man and looked on with pity at the poor woman.
What if you were wrong? What if the beggar needed to buy food for his family? What if he was a veteran who, due to trauma experienced in war, could not hold down a job? What if the wealthy man was broken inside, divorced, in ill health, and whose kids won’t even talk to him. You can easily see how our false impressions can be wrong. What’s more, they could prevent us from taking actions that could make a positive difference.
How do we suffer from false impressions? The simple answer is, we miss out. We miss out on what we could learn, on what we could experience if we instead decided to seek out a better impression. We miss out on engaging with someone we could learn from, or at a minimum, dispel our false impression.
A few years ago, my son and I were in Lancaster Pennsylvania attending a COMICON. As we were leaving, we saw a woman standing on the sidewalk with her 2 kids holding a sign, “Need Help – Family Homeless.” Now you would think this was an ideal moment to have a tremendous impact on the lives of this vulnerable family. I did too, but not until after I assumed they were looking for a free handout. Yes, I actually thought they were probably attending the conference and needed some extra money to go shopping. Why? Because they weren’t clothed in rags or pushing a shopping cart with all their belongings. As I turned the corner, and for the next hour on our drive home, I could not shake the feeling that I just missed a golden opportunity to do something good. This was 5 years ago, and I still think about it.
How do we fight false impressions? You start with yourself. There is a hint of personal judgment in our false impressions. They are not formed in a vacuum. When you see someone and you witness the formation of your false impression, ask yourself, “how am I like that person?” Then wait for the response. It can be quite enlightening.
Next, we must train to be strong against false impressions. As is with cultivating agency, we must make it our habit to ask questions when we experience a false impression that does not serve us. This requires a certain amount of self-awareness.
Perhaps start with working on your self-awareness. Train your responses to be tempered by time, to take a conscious moment to pause and reflect on what is most important in every situation. Then ask yourself “how can I best serve in the situation?” Again, wait for the response and meditate on it. The outcome, the decision, tends to be more satisfying to the soul.