… not to others. I am amazed at how often adults seem to assume that everyone else should be exactly the same as them, that others find the same things simple they do or hard, that others should like the same things they do or not, etc.
Children of course act like this all the time. If you like things I don’t like, you’re weird. If you’re smart at school and I’m not, you’re a nerd. I have a sense that a lot of adults grow up but never really got it, that we all have different skills, that we all have different likes and dislikes, and that’s okay. The result is unnecessary conflict, unnecessary conflict within relationships and marriages, unnecessary conflict in churches.
I jotted down five kinds of differences that many people seem somehow not to factor into their relationships:
1. Personality differences
I love the Myers-Briggs personality test, not because it is the final answer on human personality, but because of how well they have served me in understanding myself and others around me. So many people have a tendency to look down on those with different personalities. A person who prefers closure underrates another who likes to leave things open-ended and keep exploring. An extrovert assumes everyone wants to go back to someone’s house for coffee; the introvert just wants to go back home. The thinker thinks the feeler can’t think; the feeler believes the thinker’s values are out of whack. If we could understand the simple differences between us, we would all get along so much better. In fact, it might make the difference in some marriages.
2. Skill differences
We also have a tendency to assume that what is easy to us will also be easy for others. If we find it easy to be on time, we assume it would be equally easy for someone else. If we find it easy to fix things, we assume others should as well. Things that are common sense to us require great contemplation for others.
3. Developmental differences
It is particularly hard to watch parents treat their children harshly because they do not understand something they are not developmentally able to understand. And then of course, when middle school students reach that age where they are able to think more abstractly, they suddenly assume that they know more than everyone else, not realizing that adults went through exactly the same broadening some twenty, thirty years earlier.
4. Different leadership styles
Related to differences in personality and skill sets, pastor and congregation can often assume that there is only one way to lead effectively. A good leader is authoritarian or a good leader always builds consensus before moving forward. To be sure, some styles are apparently more effective than others, but this too can vary from culture to culture and situation to situation.
5. Contextual-cultural differences
Which brings the final “blind spot” that occurred to me that people often don’t consider. What something means is a function of its context. It is all too easy to look on something that happened in one context and then assume it means the same as it would have in ours. Even when a crisis like the recent shooting at Ft. Hood happens, it is easy for us to look back in hindsight and assume everyone should have seen that this individual was a problem waiting to happen. Perhaps he was, but it is hard for us to see the actions of his superior in their context, now that ours has changed. Similarly, small actions that did not have major significance at the time can seem quite dramatically significant at others.
We would all do well to remember some of these basic differences between ourselves, both as ministers and parishioners.