Thursday, May 29, 2008

Viva la differance! (Positive Intent)

As I was folding all five loads of piled up laundry in my rocking chair this morning, my brain was chewing on something I've been struggling with for a while: assuming the best about myself and others.

One of the driving forces behind my personality is a strong sense of "should", although I'm relieved to admit that the older I get, the more that idealism is able to expand, recognize the complex, and be shaped by growing knowledge and compassion. Even so, I tend to be very optimistic when I'm feeling safe, and something of a fatalist when I'm feeling fearful, quickly assuming that behavior that I can't easily understand comes from the darkest place possible in the other person's heart.

Thus, when feeling overwhelmed, I can become very hard on myself and others, even when my intuition is telling me there's more at work than meets the eye.

However, I'm cheered to discover that I'm growing in the area recognizing human complexity and having the patience to carefully ponder all possible motives/causes behind a behavior. (This I've always understood in theory, but in practice, it's a much more slippery notion! To know something for fact is one thing, but to automatically apply that knowledge when emotion involved is so much more "twicky!", as my 18mo likes to say. )

I'm finding increasingly that there is more often than not a very real rationale behind most human behavior, and the root issue is rarely as nefarious as all that. Much of the time, the person is acting out what honestly seems like the most reasonable reaction to whatever they're facing.

Obviously, weakness and sinful nature come into play somewhat, but the end, I think the greatest underlying sin is simply the unwillingness to trust Christ for perfect provision-something that I can only imagine God meeting with an ocean of compassion and gentleness. As a friend put it to me recently, I believe God treats those who struggle with fear with special patience and compassion!

And, I believe that more often than not personality strengths often set the person up for acting in ways that don't make sense to others who don't share (at least not as strongly) those characteristics.

Case in point: My good friend Lindsay has a head for people details. Seriously, she's amazing. She remembers Suzie Q's birth stats, whether I live in a town where there's a certain store, what kind of hairspray you use, her friend's kid's birth months. She just knows it. It sticks in her head like glue, and it's *amazing*. It makes the people around her feel loved and special. (shout out to Linds...I love ya! <3)

Not so with me. You could tell me how old you are, and I might forget, say, two minutes later. I don't often remember how much gas is, when your birthday is, my own measurements, or even street names on the way to my house. I've learned how to focus on details in my own home and with my own family, and I do it well...but beyond that..pfttt! Forget it!

Is it because I don't care about details of those around me? Nothing could be further from the truth! It's because when you're talking to me, I'm busy hearing the "feeling" phrases, what seems the most emotionally significant to you, and reading your body language. I'm distracted by your feelings, and I'm feeling them, too. Therefore, I sometimes stink at small talk. (Or at least stink under the surface...I can do a good job of pretending to listen on the surface by murmuring "mmmhmm"s and reflecting your facial expression back to you! *blush* It's genuine emotion, because I can resound with you while my brain being completely elsewhere. *more blushing*)

Half the time, if I seem to zone out while someone is talking about what they ate that day, it's not because I don't's because I'm chewing on whatever profound thing you said five minutes ago. **blush** And if you hang in there with me, I might be able to offer some insight.

I can't tell you how many times those around me have assumed that I'm stuck up, unintelligent, airheaded, inattentive, or impractical. (And, in fact, none of those things are true about's just that in an emotional situation, my intuitive side tends to take the driver's seat, followed by deep internal thought!)

I'm also slow to make friends, and tend to only have a few truly close ones at a time. I know I've hurt the feelings of others before when we fail to start a friendship or be as close as I'd like. I can be aloof, vague, evasive and even curt towards those I feel would cloud my emotional receptors. I tend to hang onto the emotions of others as if they were my own. Sometimes, I simply have all the relationships I can handle at the moment, even though I seem energetically friendly.

Only recently have I come to realize that this doesn't make me a defective person. I needn't be so hard on myself, while realizing, of course, I need to keep a careful watch out for going out of balance.

I realize tend to make quick judgments of others in my life, too, my husband in particular. He's similar to me in some ways, but he tends to feel out the world in concrete/in-the-moment way. He's good at creative problem solving, and at what it's going to take to fix something. If I philosophize around him, he has a tough time paying any attention at all until I get around to the practical, "Here's how this plays out in real life" area. And then, he's very, very honest about whether he perceives it as a good application or not. It's his strong suit, and it's extremely helpful as long as I view it as him working within his area of strength.

But if I sense boredom from him during my emoting, or if he fails to instinctively know I'm feeling (in other words, if he fails to be *me*), it's very easy for me to interpret that as apathy or annoyance.

And that scenario plays out with endless possibilities. It would be easy for one personality type to assume that another is selfish, indulgent, negligent, overbearing, heartless, lazy, non-committal or any number of harsh trait assumptions. It's so very easy to believe that others are acting out of sin (which is indeed a small part of the equation), but it's so much more complex than that.

This is part of the reason I take issue with Christians who fail to acknowledge psychology, personality type and human development as part of their faith. *muse*

Whenever I hear someone say, "That's just plain old sin!! Don't feed me any of that psychological mumbo jumbo!" (as I've said before in the past), I can't help but hear, "I don't have the energy, knowledge or resources to expend to find the real cause of this...and I really wish a good old alter service would make it go away!" Which is a totally understandable sentiment-who hasn't wished for an easier, less exhausting way of dealing with a problem?? I totally wish I could find MY magic wand. :OP

I feel greatly encouraged and buoyed by the voice in my heart that prods me towards the harder road, the road that enables me to develop and use all the fruit of the spirit in my life. Magic wands don't require thought, insight, patience, peace, gentleness or love. Learning as much as I can about the unique workings of my friends and family certainly does. And it's wonderfully humbling to discover and acknowledge the beauty of the working of the gifts and minds and spirits of others who are SO unlike me.

The more I understand that, and the more I understand what makes those around me tick, the more I realize I NEED others desperately. <3


  1. Hey there, I always enjoy reading your blog and have thought about commenting before, but this time I feel I really must :-) Oh, and do forgive the jumbled manner, it's 3am and these are just thoughts I've not had the chance to express before.

    I loved reading what you had to say, in particular about how psychology plays out in our interactions - as Christians & humans. It reinforces my conviction that it's vitally important to take the time to listen, absorb, mull, understand & adapt, when appropriate, to everyone.

    The problem seems to me that not so many people appreciate this and are all too interested in their own little worlds and how others affect them in that respect. I refer specifically to those who can't/won't acknowledge their own shortcomings, either because they lack the capacity to do so or are simply too stubborn to accede that they may need to change.

    My point is this - do you think it's wrong to wish for/expect/ask another to change in this regard? ie to become open to other peoples needs and more apt to listening and responding accordingly.

    I tend to feel that this is acceptable, indeed desirable.

    Yet there continues to be this feeling in the back of my mind that to do this is to ask too much of another - in essence to try and change who they truly are, as if I'm trying to make them more like me, as if the world should be populated with little me's who are all trying to listen and understand while really Gods plan all along was to make some who just wouldn't do this and thereby ensure the variety of humanity we now enjoy.

    I look forward to reading your response. :-)


  2. Hey, B, so good to "see" you here!

    Good comment, and very valid question. (I'm mumuriing in agreement as I read)

    I think it depends on the context of the relationship. While I tend to believe we have more obligation to try to understand and see the good intent in those closest to us, I also think we have the responsibility to be a good "mirror" to them and let them know how they're coming across.

    Perhaps this doubly applies to fellow believers, because they're already living in the paradigm of serving others in love. In order for them to truly do that, they need accurate reflection of their strengths and weaknesses. The helpful thing is that when others feel that you assume the best about their intent, they're much more likely to receive a word of gentle criticism on their imbalanced approach. *think*

    I agree, though, the tough part is when someone refuses to recognize the validity of a different approach or when they indeed need to grow in an area! (This is actually my Achilles heel, as I tend to over communicate in effort to force someone to recognize their need for change! :OP)

    In that case, I've come to realize that just as I don't have the power to *make* someone change, I also don't have the power to force them to acknowledge their need to change. It's maddening, lol. I can be a faithful friend and point it out, but I can't make them receive it.

    If it's someone very close to me, I can set up relational boundaries to let them know they're being hurtful, and let them know those boundaries must be respected. (IE, if you do XYZ, I'll be leaving the room until you're able to: be more respectful/calm down/what have you.)

    Beyond that, truly, only God has the responsibility of helping that person grow...much to my proactive chagrin. ;OP

    I do agree with you, it'd be a terrible thing to have the entire world function in the exact same way! The loss of diversity would be devastating, both on a cultural level and on personality levels. *nod*

    Perhaps it's possible to learn to speak other's "languages" without expecting to become them, or them to become you. I think it's plausible that we can learn enough about each other to assign positive intent to their actions (rather than simply perceiving everything through our own lens of personality/experience), without losing what makes us unique in the process.

    Obviously, this is much easier for people with interpersonal bents..perhaps it's fair to say that since it's our strength, we should be a bit more of the brunt of that responsibility, seeing as we do have a bit of advantage. ;o)

    I apologize for the rambling nature of my response, as I'm typing it out while constructing pineapple smoothies for the short people!