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Take responsibility for the perceptions of others

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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 anothe…
By Seth Barnes
ClousseauAndrew 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.

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