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Take responsibility for the perceptions of others

Andrew Shearman first inspired me on this subject. But if you’ve got an issue with the content take it up with me – I’m practicing what I preach.   God is interested in reconciliation. That’s why he gives us that ministry.  He is interested in people living in peace with one anot…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Andrew Shearman first inspired me on this subject. But if you’ve got an issue with the content take it up with me – I’m practicing what I preach.
God is interested in reconciliation. That’s why he gives us that ministry.  He is interested in people living in peace with one another. But, being human, we struggle with conflict.
So often when two people are in conflict, they can only see things from their own perspective. Their perception is their reality. Their differences may seem irreconcilable based upon those perceptions as opposed to real issues. At the end of the day, the issue may be more about their pride than anything else. By committing to carefully listen to the perceptions of the person they’re in conflict with and to then validate these perceptions, they often can remove the obstacles to reconciliation.
When I recently taught about perceptions, I shared a few stories about people’s embarrassing moments – times when they felt diminished and awkward. Everyone loves an embarrassing story.  Who hasn’t experienced a time where your incompetence was displayed in some public, humiliating way?

One of my favorite stories came from Marty Longcor who shares about how his former pastor was preaching on Independence Day.  As he was speaking, he felt a draft and realized his zipper was down. Fortunately, he was standing behind the podium and no one could see. He decided to wait until the end of his sermon to zip himself up during the prayer.
Once he had finished, he turned to face the flag and while praying, he grabbed the zipper and lifted. What he didn’t foresee is that he was so close to the flag that its tassle got caught in the zipper. Panic seized him as he tried to pull the flag tassle loose. But no matter how hard he yanked, it wouldn’t come loose. What complicated his dilemma was the realization that he had to walk to the front of the church in order to greet everyone as they left the service. All this was going on during his prayer.

The pastor realized that he would have to stop the prayer and do something.  So, in a moment of desperation, saying “Amen,” he grabbed hold of the flagpole, turned to face the congregation, and marched down to the front of the sanctuary carrying the flag before him. Then, standing there by the door, flagpole in hand, he shook everyone’s hands as they departed the service.
Several were overheard to say to one another, “My goodness, the pastor sure was patriotic today!”

We get embarrassed when people perceive us to be different than we perceive ourselves. We intend to communicate dignity and competence, but our foppish behavior reveals us as the clumsy dufus we really are.  The comedy inherent in Inspector Clousseau is that the gap between his own perception of himself and how others perceive is so very great.
Because “love bears all things,” we may have to go the extra mile to preserve a person’s dignity and sense of significance. We may have to own the perception issue so that their significance isn’t threatened. The question of embarrassment is a function of significance being diminished – loving them well may mean managing the shame the person may feel.

In a culture of victims whose default when shamed is to hire a lawyer to recoup damages for pain and suffering, it may seem outrageous to take responsibility for the perceptions of others.  Much easier to be right or feel aggrieved.  And so we get lost in a series of charades and pantomimes.

Much better to call a halt to such crazy-making behavior and face up to reality as others perceive it.  So what if people perceive you as a dufus? So what if they think you wounded them when you didn’t? It’s beside the point. Take responsibility for that perception and you’ll be amazed at the freedom you feel and the grace you give.

Comments (10)

  • St. Mark of the Cross

    Oh boy! That means I have to listen to Debbie my wife and what her perceptions of me are!!!!!!!!!!!!! Goodnight! love, St. Mark

  • Take responsibility? Not entirely sure what you mean by that in this context….. Be honest, yes. Laugh at yourself, yes. Don’t try and cover it up, yes. Reminds me of that bit in The Shack where Jesus drops the bowl of sauce and they all laugh so hard about humans being clumsy that they can barely breathe.

    Guess it’s the bit you said about other people thinking you’ve wounded them when you haven’t that has me confused here…!! I had a friend at college who used to say “you’re often more guilty of taking offence than I was of giving it” which made a lot of sense to me! He also used to say “you are not responsible for other people’s reactions, only for your own.” Wise guy, in more ways than one!!!

    People usually think what they want to think, regardless of what you say. Not sure about taking responsibility for that! But I think working on not caring about what they think is a good plan! Litigation for embarrassment seems totally cuckoo to me!

  • Im with Carol, I get the gist of this and agree, just not sure what you are trying to get when people have misconception of you and taking responsiblity for it.. People choose to have misconceptions about people regardless even when someone is entirely being self.. so not sure how you can be responsible for those misconceptions. So im a bit confused, either that or its just because its monday morning and my brain is not fully functioning yet!!(-:

  • Dang, people. Here I am struggling to take my own medicine this morning based on this feedback. OK – I made some edits. see if the blog communicates now or if we have a fundamental issue of a poor premise.

  • Ok so maybe just cause its monday morning,but I believe I understand what you are saying, and i agree to a point. but let me give you a example of something that just happened recently.. We head the worship in the church we are attending.. a worship member comes to us to discuss a conflict and says they need to quit the team. So they have a total misconception of our expectations and who are.we share that that we accept and acknowledge that she is feeling this way and respect it.. we in return share that that is not what who are are honest with her with that as well as our expectations.. She still quits and she still thinks that her perception is correct.. So I guess how much more responsiblity can we take for that.. we validated that what she was feeling was real to her for sure that way and felt truly sorry that she was feeling. So with God and His perfect timing you hit a nerve this morning with your blog and I guess im searching to understand this and if there is something more we need to do..

  • I’ve heard to teach this concept a few times, and perhaps Andrew too. I’ve always been a little unsure of how those lines play out of what part is my responsability and what part it the responsability of the other party to try to understand me.

    I guess what I’ve taken away from it all is that I need to try to understand how people perceive me and why I am perceived that way. And if there is offense than I need to do the best I can to re-present myself in a more understandable way. I can’t just say “Well they just missed my point”, and put it all on them. I need to try to figure out where the breakdown occured and try to remedy it.

    It does seem to me thought that there is some point where people also have to try to understand your motives even if your presentation isn’t perfect. And in that, discover what the offense reveals in them. Basically, we all have to assume the best about eachother and try to find the common heart instead of getting bogged down by different lingo or personalities…

    Is there something more that you are trying to communicate than that?

  • Kim – it plays out on a case-by-case basis. We can’t be doormats, but we can usually be more gracious, assuming the best. There does come a point where we get to shrug our shoulders or shake the dust off and move on.

  • Oh I chuckled at this blog today when I first read it, only because I’ve had many “Clousseau” seasons of life when the strengths I perceived in myself were not perceived by my followers! They were strengths I wanted to have, but did not have, and my friends and subordinates knew it! Only after many periods of stumbling and bumbling did I come to realize I can be who God made me, I don’t need to try and be something or someone I’m not.

    BTW, my favorite Cloussea quote, make sure you read it in a French accent:

    “Of course it won’t be easy, nothing worthwhile ever is. That is why I have often failed where other have succeeded.”

  • “Love others as yourself”. This is I believe a key to what you are saying Seth. For example:

    My kids find it hilarious when they are out with me and my less than socialably excepted ways. For example when I went to a local garden centre to buy our Christmas tree a few months back my daughter came along with me. There were rows of trees, all different “makes” and sizes. We chose one that we liked but then realised we hadnt picked up a trolly to wheel it to the counter.

    “Go fetch a trolly” I said “whilst I stay here with the tree” So off she went. When she arrived back five minutes later she found her mum in the trees with trees fallen all over the place.I had tripped up on one of the trees which knocked them over like a dominos effect. My daughter had a look on her face that I know oh so well from kids ” we cant take you anywhere!” a look of disbelief but laughing at the same time.

    My kids know what I am like, only last week in the supermarket filling a bag of apples I recieved the same look off my kids when the bag split and apples rolled out all over the floor. This week I picked up a box of pizza bases from the top shelf and the rest just happened to fall on me, this time at the great amusement of my husband.

    Life is not perfect and neither am I. I love myself and dont get stressed or embaressed when these “disasters” happen. Loving and accepting yourself makes life so much easier in loving and accepting others.

    When it comes to boundaries and responsibilities God can give clear division between what you are responsible for and what others are. As long as you do ONLY what the Lord says then you will make sure you end up taking responsibility for something that is not yours.The sword of the spirit is so sharp it cuts between soul and spirit. Some people think they are the same thing. Sometimes people struggle to realise where the boundary lines are and they get so fused together you end up thinking it is all the same, there is no distinction between 2 things.God can give clear division and as long as you obey all He asks of you then you will not feel guilty for someone elses behaviour, attitude etc.

    As for peoples perception. It says in 1 John about having fellowship in the light. When people walk in the Light they will see you clearly and wont percieve you wrong. They will swap from using their natural eyes to seeing the real you, your spirit, your heart. If they pecieve you wrong because they are not walking in the light as clearly as they should then dont let it affect who you are. As long as you know who you are and love yourself for who God made you then others perceptions shouldnt sway you.

  • (This is in response to the second comment- by Carol)
    I don’t know if I have much to add… Andrew summed it up and I agree!

    I worked in secular world as a senior instructor in clinical wilderness therapy- and this is being taught to 14-18 teenagers. And they get this concept. Mainly because we helped motivate them to take a look at themselves through the feedback or the eyes of others. It had a direct effect on their actions. To me taking responsibility of the perception you give is the heart of feedback, community, and ultimately transparency! Which to me is one of the most important components of any healthy relationship!

    We can’t control what someone’s reaction/attitude might be, but you can always control your intent and your love! The manner of your approach and the way in which you love only comes from awareness! Awareness only comes from taking responsibility for ” what is coming off you!”

    Imagine a President who never took responsibility for the perception he(she) gave.

    The statement below sounds nice but in the end is a copout to me!

    “People usually think what they want to think, regardless of what you say. Not sure about taking responsibility for that! But I think working on notcaring about what they think is a good plan! Litigation for embarrassment seems totally cuckoo to me!”

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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