A few months ago, I heard Pastor Dave Rolph start his Sunday morning teaching on Matthew 7-1:6 with an anecdote about people watching. Comments in his opening remarks included: “People watching. It’s fun. It’s really easy to read people and categorize them. But sometimes you can be really wrong.” To illustrate this, he told the following story:
One Sunday morning, when he was an Assistant Pastor at another church and he was with a group of Pastors who had gathered to count the Offering, he started talking about, Pastor Don, a widower on staff who had a new girlfriend. Other Pastors talked about how beautiful she was but Dave said, “Yeah, you know, but there’s something weird about her. The way she looks at you is kind of strange. You ever notice they always sit on the front row, like they just want to be seen? But the creepiest thing is, you guys, if you notice, when you’re up there praying at the pulpit, she starts to bow her head and then she just stares at you. She’s like obsessed with you the whole time you’re praying and then, right at the end of the prayer, she bows her head like she had her head bowed the whole time. That’s just weird.” Then, a couple of the other Pastors joined in agreement, saying, “Yeah, that’s strange!” Shortly after that, Pastor Don arrived to help with the counting. Of course, the other Pastors changed the subject and as they did that, Don mentioned, “My girlfriend, Leslie, because she’s deaf, …” With that, of course, the gossiping Pastors realized, as Pastor Dave said, “She sits on the front row because she reads lips! She stares at you while you’re praying because she’s reading your lips and she looks kind of funny because she’s just intently reading what it is that you’re trying to say.”
It sort of makes your skin crawl, when you get to the part of the story when it’s revealed that Leslie is deaf, doesn’t it? To the credit of Pastor Dave, he immediately confessed to the gossip session he had initiated. And, to the credit of both Pastor Don and Leslie (now Pastor Don’s Wife), they gracefully accepted Dave’s confession with humor. But, the story does vividly illustrate the point that, though people watching can be fun and it can seem easy to “size people up”, sometimes you can be really wrong. In this case, as a result of Dave’s confession, along with Don’s and Leslie’s grace, it still turned out to be kind of fun. But, all too often, that isn’t the result. Perhaps in the majority of cases, someone is mistreated inappropriately without even knowing why. And, when there is inappropriate mistreatment, once the reason becomes apparent, harshness and unloving relationships often result.
I have some dear friends, named Wayne and Cindy Shabaz, who are experts in Cross-Cultural Communication and Diversity Education. In their course, The Corporate Genome (SM TM), they dedicate a full lesson to Sizing People Up. Their research indicates that it takes the average person just five seconds to make this initial assessment and form an impression. Although this sizing up is quick and immediate, it can put a person in a box that they may never get out of. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who’s civil rights movement leadership is celebrated with a holiday this coming Monday, famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” In addition to the need for not judging a person by the color of their skin, it is needful to not judge a person based on an initial impression of how they’re conducting themselves inside the skin they have. If we don’t discipline ourselves in this way, we’re likely to never be in a position to get to know the content of their character.