What comes to mind when you hear the following? What traits pop in your head?...
Most of us have a preconceived notion of how these people will be... of their moral stance... of what their actions have been or will be.
This isn't only true of titles people have. We often have preconceived notions regarding behaviors we witness. What comes to mind when you consider these scenarios?
- Two people holding hands walking down the street
- A married person at a bar drinking without his/her spouse
- Someone of a different color hanging out on a street corner
- A parent with several kids in tow paying with food stamps
Most of us immediately jump to conclusions. Two people holding hands are in a romantic relationship. A married person at the bar without the spouse is either an alcoholic or looking for an affair or both. Different race just hanging out? Obviously a drug dealer or thief or rapist. And that parent? Get a job and stop having kids just for the purpose of living off the system.
The problem with these preconceptions is that they often keep us from truly getting to know someone. They prevent us from helping others. They cause us to harm others.
You go to a restaurant. You happen to notice a couple in a corner booth, sitting next to each other, his arm around her shoulders. You probably think "ahhh.... that's so sweet. A young couple in love." And then you see his face and recognize him. He's a married man.... and the woman is definitely not his wife.
Obviously, he's having an affair! You don't approach him. You simply tell your friends what is going on. And maybe, upon getting home, you tell a few more people.
Perhaps the truth of that scenario was that she was his sister, or a friend, or an acquaintance... grieving from the loss of a loved one or just lost a job or is otherwise in pain. His arm around her was a symbol of God's comfort and love. His quiet words were a prayer to her.
But your preconceptions, and willingness to share what you believed to be truth, led to a separation in his marriage, and a grieving person losing some innocent and Godly comfort.
This is what preconceptions do. We believe we know what is going on, but truthfully, we don't know the truth. We can't. Unless we go to the source.
Preconceptions can also lead to anger in our own hearts. If we have a preconception about a person simply based on what the person is, and that person doesn't live up to this preconception, it can cause anger or hatred.
Another way these preconceptions hurt us is when it comes to religious beliefs. We are brought up a certain way. We are taught that certain things about God/Satan/death/life/sin/etc. So as we get older, we have a preconceived notion that this all must be true.
This is normally not a bad thing. But bad things have come about because of this. Stoning women, beating children, even the extreme of virgin or child sacrifices. Even Hitler is thought to have been acting upon some form of religious belief.
The problem is... we learn these things from pastors/priests/parents/leaders. And we have a preconceived notion that these are people who are honest and trustworthy and therefore would not intentionally deceive us, or they are people with wisdom and knowledge and therefore would not unintentionally deceive us. Because of this, we don't bother to look into the scripture (or even read it at all) to to see if what we've been taught is correct.
While the Bible doesn't specifically say "thou shalt not have preconceptions", it does tell us to avoid things that can cause sin. And our preconceptions do have a great capacity and tendency to do just that. Our preconceptions get in the way of serving others, helping others, and treating others in the best way possible. God wants us to see everyone as our neighbor - not just the people who meet our preconceptions, and not only those we feel are worthy because of our preconceptions. Everyone is our neighbor. And we are to treat them all with love. We are to see everyone as children of God, just as worthy of God's grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Suggested Lenten sacrifice:
Let go of preconceptions
Yes, those preconceptions will still pop in our heads from time to time. But we can learn to recognize these thoughts and silence them before they turn into sin. And we can then take the time to get to know our neighbors and love them as we are instructed.
Peace to all of you this day and always.