I’ve felt compassion for – and grace toward – many decision-makers in our country lately. There’s one in particular with whom I feel a kinship of sorts because of how misunderstood this person seems to be. Everything this person does is questioned, intent assumed, and this person has been quite vilified for being human and trying to do their job. It’s like people assume that decision-makers can’t make mistakes – they’d rather assume evil intent.
This has been timely for me; I’ve been reflecting this past week on being misunderstood and on misunderstanding people, because I’ve been very misunderstood lately. Things have been said to me and about me lately that are not true at all, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to show who I really am even though it may not change their minds anyway. I’ve been accused of trying to make people feel stupid, being narrow-minded, and thinking that I know everything.
Here’s the truth: I’m so very aware of my own imperfections and mistakes. I have an inner critic that beats me up constantly. I can tell you the top five mistakes I’ve made in the past year alone without having to think about it. I’m acutely aware of how little I know, and I’m also skeptical of most things because of the vast amounts of misinformation circulating. That leads me to learn, to go to the primary sources, to be accurate. This (along with my strong vocabulary and desire for accuracy) has led to me being called a know-it-all, among other things. And it couldn’t be further from the truth.
I do NOT write this for pity – I write it to make a point.
It’s because of my own insecurities AND my experience that I choose to believe the best in people, assume their intent is good, and try to always read text in a polite tone rather than assuming otherwise.
Here’s a personal example:
When I first started getting into the Newborn Screening world, I was angry. Angry at these experts who wouldn’t do what I thought was right (add Krabbe). It was easy to believe that the NBS advisory board was doing it to spite me. In fact, I used to villainize the newborn screening board members in my mind because they wouldn’t add Krabbe.
Because I didn’t agree with them, I assumed the worst.
What was the truth? Scientists rely on peer-reviewed data, they take medical ethics seriously, and they are passionate about what they do. That’s why they are so thorough. These amazing people have devoted their lives to saving lives. and then people – like me – come at them angry, without understanding the process or the reasoning. It took years to get to know them, all the while observing the process, which led to me better understanding their hearts behind their life work. I now see their passion, I see their dedication to ethical medicine, and I completely support the science they represent. I understand that science changes as they learn more. I was so very wrong.
That experience has taught me, again, to take the time to truly understand what is happening before I form an opinion, and to assume the best because I am very much an imperfect human and others also make mistakes. I’d much rather be accurate than “right.”
A social media friend posted this quote today and I had to use it:
I’ve learned to never assume ill intent from others. Misunderstandings happen all the time and the best thing to do is to have a conversation. 99.9% of the time people are offended by what they believe is happening and not by what is actually happening.– Carla C. Bisong
I was wrong to be angry with them and to assume their intent, but I was also grieving, I knew what was waiting to be published, I knew how effective the treatments were, and it was difficult to wait for the proof to validate my stance because lives were at stake.
But it went deeper than that, I believe: what happened to Tori was out of my control and it felt good to find someone to (falsely) blame instead of accepting that some things are genuinely out of our control.
Yes, I believe this applies to how many have handled the events of 2020. It’s easier to believe that there’s some grand conspiracy and that someone is trying to control things than to accept that something is uncontrollable.
Christians – we can do better. We are CALLED to do things better than we are. We are called to love God and love our neighbors, and what loving our neighbors looks like changes by the moment sometimes. But loving our neighbor should always look one way: like Jesus. Jesus didn’t assume things. He didn’t chase after conspiracy theories (great book about a related topic here). He met people where they were and loved them, no matter their political beliefs (as one example).
If we were to remember that we are human and flawed, maybe we’d find it easier to extend grace and try to understand.
If you want to know my heart, read this blog. Read my book. Look at my Instagram feed. Better yet, ASK ME. If I engage in a discussion on Facebook, it’s because I’m genuinely trying to understand or share the information I have seen (because facts matter to me more than opinions). I’ve written about the steps I’ve taken to learn to “listen to understand” many times because it’s so important to me, and it has changed me. It has brought so much compassion and grace into my heart because I don’t immediately vilify those who are different.
An excerpt from a previous post:
- I want to be understood so I listen to understand. Understanding doesn’t mean agreement. It means respecting the other viewpoint and stepping into their shoes. Perspectives are valid whether you agree with their conclusions or not. You cannot deny someone’s life experiences that have shaped their beliefs. Why not listen? What does it cost you?
- I want my ideas to be considered and respected so I consider and respect the other side. And sometimes I find that they are right. Sometimes I am the one who needs to adjust my thinking. And that’s okay!
- I want others to be humble and willing to admit that maybe I’m right – and therefore I approach new information with the possibility that I am wrong because knowing what is true is most important to me, not being right. I’d rather admit that I was wrong than continue believing something that is wrong. I know I’m in the minority with this, but can you imagine how awesome it would be if we all approached things like this?
- I want others to assume good in me so I assume good in others. I try to not assume things, in general. I do not like when assumptions are made about me or what I believe, so I try to not make assumptions about other people.
- I want my friends and family to accept and respect me as I am, so I accept and respect them for who they are. This doesn’t mean that I agree with them on everything, but I try my best to put differences aside because I love them.
These lessons have come the hard way, and that’s why I share what I’ve learned – in hopes that you can learn these things easier than I did. I spent so many years of my life believing that the other party (or those who see things differently) was the enemy, and I was wrong. Completely wrong. It’s SO important to have a diverse group of friends so that you can learn and not just believe what people like you believe. Echo chambers are unhealthy.
Bottom line: try to practice grace before you react. Assume the best. Try to listen to understand, not to argue.
Life is too short to approach life in any other way. And it makes this brief life so much more peaceful – and easier – to love our neighbors when we don’t falsely assume that they’re out to get us.