Listening to a podcast recently, a thought that was shared got stuck in my head and has been ruminating ever since: We judge people by their behavior but want to be judged for our intentions.
I have had to sit in this for a few days to let it unpack me and take root. I’ve rolled it over in my head and tested it against some things that I have been currently facing. It’s been a helpful thought to understand myself and others better.
While I don’t think that personality profiles are the end-all-be-all for understanding people, I firmly believe that they are helpful tools to give us insights into ourselves and others. They give us language by which we can explain and understand things in a way that we may not have seen or understood before.
The two tools that I have found most helpful have been Gallup’s StrengthsFinders and the Enneagram. The challenge that I have found for myself is not using what I find from these tools as crutches to lean on or, worse yet, walls to hide behind in order to shirk my own responsibility.
Recently, I have been doing some work of self-examination to discover some unhealthy tendencies and feelings which I know need resolution. In order to move away from unhealthy behavior, identifying it is the first step. Turning away from it is the next step and that proves to be something that is as challenging as the identification. As a Christian, I believe that I can only discover this behavior and move from it through the help and power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that he works through many different means to do this, including other people.
When I started listening to the podcast that introduced this concept to me, it hit me like a two by four in the middle of my forehead. The light bulb went on and I began to discover that my lack of understanding this has probably been at the root of some of the things that have taken root in me.
As a general rule, I know why I do the things that I do. I am fairly self-aware with a healthy understanding of who I am. When I go about doing things, I know my reasons and rationale for that. Oftentimes, I expect that as people see my behavior, they will be able to see or know my intentions. If they don’t see them or know them, I expect that they will communicate with me to gain a deeper understanding of my intentions.
At the same time, I look at others and I often do one of two things. I either project my own personality and intentions on them, judging them on what I would be thinking and intending if I did the same things as them. Or I simply look at their behavior and judge it at face value whether or not their is a deeper “Why” that exists beneath the surface.
Not using it as a wall to hide behind but rather to understand myself better, some of this comes from the fact that I am an Enneagram 8. 8s can be defensive and volatile. Anger is easily their “Go-to” emotion and they are always ready for a fight. Knowing this about myself helps me understand my reactions to things.
Knowing this about myself has also helped me to create pathways and buffers that move me away from my primary emotion and tendency towards fighting. Speaking with a consultant a number of years ago, the term that we landed on together was “empathetic curiosity.” Empathy is not high on my strengths list, so I have had to raise my own awareness towards it and create a pathway that moves me towards it in a way that I would not naturally gravitate.
I’ve learned to ask questions to gain a deeper understanding rather than assume the worst, which I excel at. Asking questions helps me move from analyzing behavior based on face value to analyzing behavior based on the intentions that exist beneath the surface. Most people have a pretty good handle on why they do the things that they do and even if they don’t, questions can be helpful for not only me but for them in looking at things that they may not have considered before.
As I listened to the podcast and rolled this thought over in my head, I realized how guilty I was of this very thing. I had been looking at behavior and judging it based on my thoughts and projections rather than asking questions to understand better why this behavior was present.
Looking deeper into myself, it became clear to me that not only had I been doing this, but it flew in the face of so much of what I have taught others. Don’t project what you think someone needs or thinks onto someone, simply ask them the question of what they need or what they are thinking.
As if some of these realizations weren’t enough for me, God put some additional praxis moments in my path to ensure that I would not only see his grace in all this but also repent of the posture that I had been taking. As those moments began to unfold, I was moved with emotion at the care that God had taken to help thick-headed old me to gain a better understanding of this.
How are you judging the behavior of others? Even if it’s someone you think you know well, asking them questions about their intentions rather than presuming you know their intentions is the right course of action. I’m learning this slower than I probably should, but I think it’s going to be a game changer for me if I really lean into it.
It shouldn’t surprise me that Jesus’ words hit close to home here. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Give others the same courtesy that you want them to give you as well. I just wonder how much this could change the way that we engage each other, especially in our differences, if we took this approach.