Blind Spots in Action (Part 2)
(Photo courtesy of Rogers & Cowan)
Blind Spots in Action (Part 2)
Excerpted from “The Third Option” by Miles McPherson (Copyright 2018). Reprinted and used with permission from Howard/Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
5 I claim all people are God’s children, but treat some like they belong to another family.
Esli, a twenty-five-year-old Mexican woman and worship leader in a predominantly White church, approached her pastor with an idea for a citywide youth outreach that would include a well-known guest speaker. The pastor dismissed the idea, reminding her that the church’s community, who were mostly White ranchers, would never financially support her because she was a Mexican woman. “Ministry like that is not done by Mexican women, only men.”
John, a White member of the church who had recently been released from prison, heard of the idea and encouraged Esli to pursue it. She told him about being rejected by the pastor, but John persisted. He invited her to come to a coalition of pastors meeting and present her idea.
During her presentation, none of the pastors looked at her except the pastor she’d originally spoken to, who was visibly angry. Everyone else was talking with each other or checking their phones. When John began to speak, they all lifted their heads to listen, and eventually agreed to support the event. As a result, three thousand young people from sixteen schools attended the outreach, and hundreds dedicated their lives to God.
The blind spot Esli’s pastor and the coalition of pastors suffer from is common. How often do we dismiss people because they don’t look like people who we generally recognize as those in authority? When Saul was looking to anoint the next king in Israel, he went to Jesse’s home and asked him to bring out his sons. After evaluating all seven of his tall, good-looking sons, God said that none of them qualified. He then asked Jesse if he had any other sons. Jesse did not even consider his youngest, David, who was out taking care of the sheep. Once he brought him in front of Saul, God confirmed that he was the one. That little kid David became Israel’s greatest king. God does not look at a person’s outward appearance but at their heart.
Esli now oversees a ministry at our church that is larger than the entire church where she previously served. But blind spots prevented the pastors from seeing the anointing of her life, and almost kept the church from blessing the youth in their community.
6 I claim to acknowledge many perspectives in life, but I’m not really willing to learn from any views that challenge mine.
You’ve heard the expression, “We judge ourselves by our intent, but judge others by their actions.” The truth is, we’re not in a position to judge either. When we believe our intuition is flawless, we quickly judge that someone else is being biased toward us, when in fact the only bias on display is our own. Honoring others involves treating every single encounter as a separate situation, and a willingness to listen and learn from each person individually.
Those who are doing well in life often view society through the lens of a “just-world bias.” This is defined as the tendency for people to assume that the world is just and that therefore people get what they deserve in life. Just-world bias presumes that bad things happen to people who make bad choices, while good things happen to people who make good choices. It doesn’t take into account an individual’s personal story or a people’s collective history, which is a critical element in understanding— not defending but understanding—why people feel or act the way they do.
No one would argue that hard work and doing the right thing yield positive results in life. However, when you know and love people who were born into challenging situations that continue to smack them in the face, your heart starts to challenge this view of the world. When you see obstacles keep popping up for some people that wouldn’t exist for others, causing them to give up in despair, it is difficult to simply chalk their failure up to their own fault.
When you see people suffering from hardship, this blind spot will cause you to believe they must have made bad choices in life, and therefore they must be getting what they deserve. My challenge to you is to ask God to help you see other factors that may have contributed to their hardship.
Romans 8:37 says, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” If this is true, your recognition of what appears to be failure in someone else’s situation may be your cue to help them overcome their obstacles.
When you recognize that God doesn’t make losers and begin seeing each person you meet as someone with the potential to win, you start winning the battle against this blind spot. Not only will you start seeing the full truth of another’s experience, you may also start to ask how you can help bring out the winner God created that person to be.
7 Being an unintentional participant in a bigoted system insulates you from the guilt of the bigotry.
By now it’s possible that you realize how your social narrative has shaped a flawed understanding of certain people, including those who look like you.
It’s also possible that you are watching news channels, listening to talk radio shows, or engaging in social media feeds that reinforce biased views. You may also be aware that everyone has an agenda not only to inform but to influence your opinion, because division equates to an uptick in ratings.
This blind spot shields you from recognizing that you are supporting the biased garbage you consume. It also absolves you from recognizing that you are complicit in the bigoted intentions of those sources.
Here’s a better way to approach media consumption: Ask yourself if what you’re watching or listening to helps or hinders your ability to love your neighbor. Does it make you feel more justified in your biases, or does it foster a sense of compassion in your heart?
You get to choose what you fill your mind with. Choose to fill it with information that builds up people rather than tears them down. Don’t make it harder on yourself to love your neighbor. Challenge information that causes division and cut ties to any influence that dishonors, rather than honors, your neighbor.
Matthew 5:29: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
8 I claim that because racism doesn’t impact me, it doesn’t exist— or at least to the degree that people say it does.
The Stephenses, a White couple preparing to adopt a Black child, asked for advice from the Wrights, an African American couple. The Wrights, who lived in the same neighborhood, asked if they were ready to deal with the racist pushback they’d be sure to face as a result of their decision to adopt a Black child. With a bewildered, almost offended look on their faces, the adopting couple said, “We aren’t racists, and racism is not part of our lives. We are going to love this child just like we love our other kids.”
The Stephenses truly believed that because they were not racist, and because they had never experienced racism themselves, racism didn’t exist the way the Wrights knew it did. It wasn’t until they actually began raising their child that they experienced the racism they’d been warned about—racism that had previously lain dormant in the hearts of certain family members, neighbors, friends, and students in their local school. It wasn’t until they welcomed their new addition to the family that they encountered a covert hatred that had found its target: their adopted Black son.
In this day and age, we’d be hard-pressed to find someone who does not believe that racism exists at all. But I meet a lot of people who dismiss or minimize racism’s impact on certain groups of people, often sincerely, though sometimes purposefully—especially if acknowledging it requires them to make changes to their own worldviews or actions.
I know how difficult it is to wrap your mind around something that you have little or no experience dealing with. That’s why this blind spot often dismisses people who are affected by racism as “exaggerators,” which magnifies its damaging effects.
Unfortunately, some who are affected by this blind spot turn a deaf ear and a mute tongue to opportunities for dialogue and empathy. You’ll often hear them say things like Why can’t you just get over it? accompanied by Puh-leeze and an eye roll. Their underlying belief is that racism is not really that much of an issue from their perspective, so it can’t possibly be that much of an issue in someone else’s life.
It’s one thing to confront the challenges of everyday life when everyone looks like you and gives you the benefit of the doubt. It’s an entirely different thing to feel unheard, ignored, or mocked about your experiences with racism as a member of an out-group. Ultimately, before responding, the onus is on each and every one of us to hear our brothers and sisters out—and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in understanding their grievances.
9 I don’t have any blind spots. I see things just fine.
All I have to say is: Nice to meet you, Jesus.
Seriously, we’ve all had this thought at one time or another. But some have adopted it as a lifestyle. We’re all suffering from a blind spot bias. This is the tendency to see oneself as less biased than most other people, or the failure to see the impact of biases on one’s own judgments and evaluations.
This is exactly what pride wants you to believe: that you’re not part of the problem. But the reality is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We all play a role in perpetuating or allowing racial bias to affect our lives—by acts of commission (conscious actions taken to perpetuate racism) or omission (things we don’t do but could, to alleviate the problem).
The first step in addressing a problem is accepting the possibility that you may have one.
360 Degrees of Sight
A friend of mine became a professional counselor around the time I went into ministry about thirty years ago. Around that time she asked me, “Do you have any idea how people perceive you?”
Immediately I blurted out, “I’m from New York, so I don’t really care!”
I was joking—sort of. I realize having that attitude isn’t a good thing. There are truths people know about us that we don’t know about ourselves. And we need to care about them, because those blind spots are preventing us from being the best people we can be.
In large organizations, it’s common to conduct what’s called a “360-degree evaluation.” The process involves asking peers, those you report to, and those who report to you, about what they perceive to be your strengths and weaknesses:
In your opinion, what’s holding Jim back? If you could tell him one thing that would help him be better at work, what would it be?
This exercise reveals blind spots in very powerful and sometimes painful ways. Yes, the truth can hurt, but walking around with blind spots, especially when it comes to how we treat each other, causes pain for a lifetime—even for generations.
- Can you name a time you have been hurt by someone else’s blind spot? Which one?
- Can you give an example of how one of the nine blind spots applies to your life?
- Can you come up with a blind spot that I did not include?
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But he who heeds counsel is wise.
A fool’s wrath is known at once,
But a prudent man covers shame. (Proverbs 12:15–16)
Lord, please open the eyes of my heart and nurture a humble attitude, one that can receive the truth about myself. Show me how blindly I have been in hurting others and, more important, how I can honor others. Holy Spirit, give me a forgiving heart toward those who have hurt me unknowingly. Grant me the wisdom and patience to reveal their blind spot to them in a way that I would want to be enlightened.
In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.