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What an edifying, yet challenging, note I received several days ago!  It came from a close friend who is both introspective and outgoing.  That combination allows him to easily relate to people, both friends and strangers, while also being prone to replay in his own mind the conversations and encounters he has with others.

In his note, and I am grateful for his willingness to disclose himself as he does, he summarized some of his thinking about making mistaken conclusions when replaying recent incidents.  This is what he said:

“I am learning that when I have a long relationship or acquaintance with someone, I also end up having a particular image, or impression, of that person’s motivations.  I don’t think I am alone in this.  In fact, I am finding out that many people form that image very quickly, like in several minutes.  They explain that they have the ‘skin” that allows them to sense what lies behind the behavior of the other person.

“Whether formed super quickly or with longer reflection and dialogue, in my case my image of others becomes a key for interpreting the meaning of something they say or do.  It is unavoidable.  As a parent, I do it with my children.  As a husband, I do it with my wife.  As a supervisor at my plant, I do with other employees.

“At the same time, that image can easily keep me in a vicious cycle.  When “Jim’s” behavior, behavior I have seen before, is motivated or conditioned by a factor that is not part of my image of Jim, I most likely will not realize it.  I will misunderstand what Jim has really done and impose a false meaning, all because I imposed a previously formed grid of motivations on Jim’s action.  At the same time, that false meaning is consistent with my image of Jim, the image I brought to the situation!!

“As I mentioned several lines earlier, I see this phenomenon happening in marriages, as well as in not just non-marital relationships.  If “Susie” does something that I have seen her do many other times, I assume that the reason for this most recent incident is the same reason that stood behind previous and similar incidents.  I am learning, however, that the reason behind the most recent event may be completely “out of the ordinary.”  Not realizing the change of motivation, my interpretation of the most recent event is completely skewed. 

“By not taking into consideration the change of motivations, and thus being wrong in my current interpretation, most likely my response will be inappropriate and I will create bad baggage.” 

My friend’s note was an encouragement.  I sensed that he was taking up the challenge of being more tenuous, less dogmatic, more gracious, less categorical, and more believing that God is at work in people even when we don’t realize it.

We simply have to be prepared to change our concepts of people as the people themselves change their motivations.  We may find that a cookie cutter approach is simply too simplistic.  People change, and so must our interpretation of their behavior.  The behavior may be identical to what we have seen before.  But, the reason may be completely different, and it is imperative that we realize that.  After all, isn’t that the attitude we want people to have toward us???

What have been some of your experiences in jumping to conclusions about the behavior of others??