November 4, 2021
I’ve been thinking about why we choose to push people away rather than let them in.
This guy I knew, P, didn’t have the best childhood. His home life was pretty rough, even by the roughest standards. His parents weren’t exactly nurturing, and he never felt secure or safe.
His parents also weren’t religious. He recalled wanting to go to church as a kid: “I wasn’t getting much at home,” he told me, “and I figured that church might give me something.” So, he asked his folks if he could try it out. They flat out said no. Never. Not a chance.
One day, when he was about 7 or 8, he and a friend of his from the neighborhood heard through the grapevine that the local church was handing out free ice cream. So, as kids would likely do, they headed over there one Sunday morning to get themselves some. But, to their surprise, they first had to sit through a sermon. Ice cream would come after.
So, they sat through the sermon, baffled and confused. “It was like listening to someone speak in another language,” P told me. “They talked about God and Jesus, and it was all so foreign to me.”
But they made it through, and then, as kids would likely do, they grabbed a fudge bar from the stash of ice cream that the church had available.
Then, they each grabbed a second. And then a third.
At that point, the grownups who were handing out the ice cream took notice, and they weren’t too happy about what those two kids were doing.
“Where are your parents?” they asked. There were no parents.
“Well, you can’t be here without your parents,” they said. “You need to go home. And don’t come back unless your parents come with you.”
But P’s parents would never go with him. They’d never accompany P to a place that might provide him with a sense of security.
Church was a good place for P to be, and P was right there. As P would say, “I wasn’t really looking for God. I was looking for ice cream. But I got a taste of God. Which was the point, right?”
But he would never get more than a taste. The folks at the church didn’t ask why he, an 8-year-old kid, would be going to church without his parents. They didn’t consider whether that kid might benefit from being there. They didn’t ask themselves if helping that kid, rather than rejecting him, would be doing God’s work. They only saw a delinquent stealing ice cream, and based on that snap judgment alone, they decided to exclude him, barring him from an opportunity to find solace, or to know security and safety.
They didn’t slow down, think it through, and ask the right questions.
I think a lot of us get rejected based on snap judgments. The human brain is pretty efficient, so it’s inclined to believe that it knows all it needs to before it makes a decision. Behavioral scientists call this WYSIATI – the assumption that What You See Is All There Is To See. But oftentimes, what we see doesn’t even scratch the surface. It’s what we don’t see that matters, though we don’t often go there.
We’ve all heard quotes about how important it is to be kind to everyone because you never know what someone else is going through. Yeah, sure… sounds great. But what usually sounds awesome in a meme isn’t what we tend to do. We jump to conclusions because our brains are wired that way. And then we make decisions based on those conclusions, with outcomes that are often unkind.
In a sense, to make the right decisions about who to let in and who to push away, we need to override our natural urges. We need to slow down and consider that we aren't likely going to react in the best way, even if our reactions feel justified and natural. We need to remember that there’s usually more to the story, otherwise, we won't be kind to others, despite how much we agree with those quotes and memes.
If an eight year old kid ate too much of your ice cream, would you feel robbed and aggravated? Would you want him to go away? Or would you wonder, What’s his story? I’d like to think I’d want to know more. But I’m human, so I can’t be sure. One thing I know is this: whatever I think I know about others, it probably isn’t enough.
And that is all.