We sat at a table in the corner of the diner. As I looked at the person across from me all I could see was fear and anger. They had called in a panic and pleaded with me to see them right away. With virtually no small talk they launched right into that which they so desperately wanted to share with me. “I’ve been accused of _______. And let me be clear, I have never engaged in anything even close to that kind of behavior.”
What is your gut response to the above paragraph?
Did you have an initial reaction of disbelief to the person’s assertion that they did nothing wrong?
Or, was it one more of openness or empathy?
The above was an actual conversation. Through the years, I have engaged both professionally and personally in conversations with individuals who have been accused of a variety of things. Often times those allegations have received some ‘press’ and are subject to some level of the court of public opinion. Based on little to no facts – such as I provided above – people had already formed an opinion…a judgement.
Our legal system is built on the foundational premise of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. President Regan was famous for his sentiment with respect to the Soviet Union. “Trust, but verify.” Yet my sense is especially with the 24 hour news cycle, our culture quickly convicts individuals based on accusations rather than substantiated information.
Why is it we so often and so easily rush to judge others, often with a strong tone of self righteousness? My thinking is at some point in our ever increasingly polarizing culture we have lost sight of the humanity of the other, choosing instead to quickly bundle folks as an assumed set of behaviors. We have chosen bias over empathy. And the very real consequence of this type of behavior in certain situations is that lives are destroyed. Just asked anyone who has lost a job over a false accusation or worse yet has been unjustly sent to prison.
One of the most poignant parables Jesus tells is, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?” The invitation is clear, begin with empathy not with judgement.
Trust me, I know it’s a heavy lift. In fact, it may be one of the most challenging behaviors there is to move from biased judgement to openness and empathy. Assume positive intent rather than unjust accusation! It just may be JUST what is needed to actually change the world.