We all have them.
“Alarms” that tell us what to say and how to behave when we find ourselves surrounded by people we do not know.
Here is what we want.
We want to be around people who are accepting of us. We want to be around people who share our opinions, people who will not judge us negatively. People we share things with.
Pastor Labberton really gets into the social psychology of being with people with the words* “Alarms that neurologically register fear and monitor safety. Body language, smell and eye movement, skin color, style of dress, volume of voice, attitude and so much more end up telling us from very early on whether we feel we are fundamentally safe or not” . These warning bells go off when we are with people we think are “different” from us.
We prefer being safe. We prefer people who are like us…
Most of us never choose to get out of our safe zone [aka “comfort zone”].
Most of us just can’t handle it.
Not only do we not want to deal with people we are uncomfortable around, we find it hard to change our way of seeing the world. We like our habits. We like our routines. We like our boundaries for how we “see” things.
It is just common human behavior to cling to our individual perspectives. We all have experiences that shape us. We learn to categorize people due to those experiences. Our personality is formed by interactions with caregivers [parents?] and important others. Gender shapes us and society’s reaction to our gender. Race certainly makes a big difference in how we perceive and of course culture, our home culture, community culture, and national culture make a big impact.
All this results in a vision we have for the world.
This happens and it is neither good nor bad. It is just how life happens for all of us.
Here is when this process can get bad. When our limited perspective becomes the “only” perspective, when we forget how particular our vision of the world is, when we forget how naturally biased we are, when we forget that we are driven largely by our own self-interests. Labberton says it best: our point of view is never “neutral or comprehensive” but we trick ourselves into thinking it is.
Before we go any further, let’s not beat ourselves up. It is not necessary to do that. No one can understand the world in an “all-compassing” perspective. We don’t have the mental capacity to do that. To a certain extent our natural limiting of information helps us maintain sanity.
Where we fail [or rather I should say where I fail, I need to own this] is when I see opportunities to grow by understanding other peoples’ points of view and I turn my back on them.
Our context of this social psychological discussion is a book about helping our neighbors, so when we discuss our limited perspective, it can really get in the way of offering help.
How likely is an ordinary person to enter a strange culture where he or she may experience discomfort? How likely is an ordinary person to offer help to someone with a very different life experience? How likely is a middle or upper class person with their creature comforts going to forgo those and enter a setting where impoverished people exist?
Sadly, the answer for most of us is, we are not likely to do those things…
Would it not be better to look at interaction with other human beings as opportunities, no matter what their status in life? We can learn new things. We can discover new meanings. We can experience new openness in our lives and along the way, we may give someone else hope. Coincidentally, we may even find ourselves feeling better about ourselves because we helped someone, we may discover that getting out of our comfort zone is not that bad; the fears of difference are not that real . [I venture to say that feeling better, learning new things and diminishing fear are sidelights of this process].
And then we have “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
*from his book The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor