A while back, my family moved into a brand-new subdivision with no homeowner's association. Everyone's paperwork included an agreement that during the final phase of the subdivision's development, the homeowners would gather and create a homeowner's association to support all the restrictions the developer had placed on the properties (which included things like outlawing backyard sheds, banning privacy fences, flag poles, storage pads for campers in the side yard, and so on and so forth).
After we had lived there about a year, one of our neighbors decided to try to organize this association. We weren't thrilled. Homeowner's associations always seem to end up being an excuse ambitious neighbors to indulge their inner Barney Fife.
When we went to the organization meeting, that impression didn't get much better.
The neighbor who most wanted the association was trying to organize it because she couldn't tell other moms at her kids' grade school where she lived and have it be recognized. Apparently this was happening because we didn't have a homeowner's association to levy a tax...er, association fee so we could purchase a sign for the entrance to the sub. "If I tell the pizza delivery man I live in the Split Rail Sub, he doesn't know where it even is - I have to tell him it's attached to Beacon Square and that's just embarrassing. We need to have our own sign and our own identity!"
When an older neighbor objected to the expensive yearly fee, the organizer told him, "Well, people of your generation didn't care about things like this, but my generation likes to have a real identity."
As if you can call being defined by what group of cookie-cutter houses you live in "identity".
People today cling hard to their labels. It's a shortcut to avoid deeply knowing people and valuing them by character. Character takes a while to learn and experience to assess. Labels take a few seconds to assign.
It may have been at that homeowner's meeting when I began to realize I relied heavily on labels. And while some labels are unavoidable (I will always be a girl and not a boy, for instance), many are superficial and can really blind us to the actual person standing there right in front of us.
That's not to say labels are entirely inaccurate. To say I'm a thirty-something homeschooled white evangelical Christian right wing conservative homemaker is true. But seeing me through a sort of computer program you can plug parameters into for a definition would overlook ME in the process. If you happened to be labeled a highly-educated Jewish liberal professional, you'd expect we had nothing in common and might even hate each other.
And yet in real life, I'm not only very fond of someone with that exact set of labels but they are fond of me as well. Because I also know other things about that person, Things about their character. They are not the sum of their labels. And neither am I.
Labeling other people prevents us from truly knowing them. Even worse, labeling ourselves prevents us from knowing ourselves.
After that homeowner's meeting, I began thinking about how to truly know people. I remember reading the list of attributes I'd made for a potential future husband and throwing it out. It was a very long list. It got very short. The difference between the short list and the long list was Goodness. I decided I needed to find a man who loved Good. In order to do that, I was going to have to love Good enough to know something about what it was.
The long list required surface attributes to measure whether a man might be an acceptable husband. The short list didn't care about the surface. The long list could've been run through a computer to find the perfect mate. The short list required thought and care and assessment of a man's actual core beliefs.
Labels are an enemy to being able to see and embrace what is Good. They let us get all caught up in whether a person comes from the "right" family and "right" religious background and "right" political background. They let us think we are doing pretty okay if we've collected all the "right" labels ourselves, like a string of Boy Scout merit badges.
I would probably never have even considered Ben as a husband had I not begun to get a foggy idea of how to see a PERSON instead of their labeling. By the time I met him, I was able to see him as a lover of Good, not as a public-schooled "baby Christian" who wasn't sure whether he'd get rid of a television in his house. (In the end, he's wound up being firmer about "no TV" than I am...and someone with deeper faith too.)
I have friendships today I might never have had if I had simply labeled them and then been disappointed they didn't end up matching the label.
I have more freedom to change my thinking and look for a "renewing of the mind" than I would if I saw my identity as bound to a series of arbitrary labels.
Here's what we are hoping to teach our children: ignore the labels. Seek out what is truly Good and love it. Don't accept counterfeit approximations hiding under nice-sounding banners. If there was ever a time when we needed to do this, it's now when "the love of many grows cold".
Because a long time ago, God's Son came here carrying his Father's name and power and way too many people with all the "right" labels couldn't recognize him because he didn't have all those labels himself. He didn't come from the right part of the country. He hadn't gone to their schools. He didn't conduct himself as they thought Messiah ought to.
And if it happened before, it's bound to happen again. When Jesus comes back, I think we might all end up being at least a little shocked who he really is when we see him in person. Only our deep and sincere love of Good is going to let us truly welcome him back.
"Cognitive dissonance" is a term used to describe the effect on a person's mind when something they have always taken for granted to be true is challenged. It's the mind's version of an orchestra tuning up: an unpleasant confusion of non-harmonic notes.
Ben and I have spent a lot of time talking about cognitive dissonance over the past few years, about what it means and how to address it. For me, this dissonance is almost physically painful. The easiest (most arrogant) thing to do when my assumptions are challenged is to dismiss the contrary idea as foolish and not worth thinking about. It's actually very difficult to go beyond that point, accept the challenge and use research and reason to either conclude that my original assumption is correct or realize it's incorrect.
Many of us when faced with cognitive dissonance find it so painful we do not even try to address it. The only reason I'm learning to is because Ben so fully had to embrace it in order to change from the way he used to think to how he thinks today. He is much quicker to embrace cognitive dissonance and search for an answer to resolve it than I am.
But leaving cognitive dissonance unresolved means caring for our own idea of what is true rather than loving what really IS.
One of the things I've been noticing in the current political race (and I apologize for two political blogs in a row, but it's been a riveting primary season and I've been doing a lot of research...more on that in a minute) is many peoples' eminent refusal to actually search out and find the truth for themselves about candidates they like and accusations against them. If anyone says anything about a candidate we happen to have pinned all our "like" on, it's easy to dismiss the accusation as sour grapes or a biased perspective or an outright lie, etc., etc.
It's not easy to start rooting around and find out the answers for ourselves.
For instance, I've liked Ted Cruz for a number of years now, especially since the Obamacare debates in Congress. However, when he first declared his intention to run for president, Mike Farris of HSLDA - someone I have a lot of respect for after taking a class from him and reading his articles and opinions over a good portion of my life - said he would never choose Cruz as a primary candidate because "he backed the Iran deal". That was a stunning accusation to me since I was familiar with Cruz's speeches AGAINST the Iran deal and there didn't seem to be any wiggle room for backing it. If, after that kind of posture, he had actually voted for the deal in some way...that was a deal killer for me too.
It took me two weeks of research to chase down why Mike Farris said what he did. I had to read too many very dry articles about Congressional procedure and had to go through Ted Cruz's voting record, looking up each bill and amendment he voted on to get a summary of what it was and what it did in order to find anything related to the Iran deal. I finally figured out what Mike Farris was talking about: Ted Cruz voted "yes" to move the Iran Nuclear Review Act forward in Congress, which ultimately ended up allowing the President to lift sanctions on Iran without the deal being properly reviewed and approved by the representatives of the people. He also explained why: because he had hope the Iran Nuclear Review Act would at least slow things down and keep the debate going to allow for further amendments that would ultimately stop the deal completely.
That hope failed. But I don't think he was backing the deal. He was trying to find someway, somehow to stop it.
Now, Mr. Farris may still be correct. I could be misreading things. I'm not an expert in chasing down all the possible angles of votes like these. But at least I know what I think based on what happened instead of what various people wrote opinions about.
(And speaking of dry facts, some of the other ones I've chased down recently have involved reading the last quarter of financial reports from the different campaigns. Turns out Donald Trump isn't exactly funding his own campaign - donors are, just as with everyone else's campaigns. The only difference is that Donald is apparently gambling on winning and has loaned his campaign about a quarter of the funds that've been used. Loaned. As in "expects to get paid back"...although its unclear whom he expects to pay him back. Donors? Probably. I know...fascinating...but after all, he's made a huge foundation of his candidacy being that he's so rich he's not dependent on anyone and he's self-funding his own campaign just to prove he can't be bought. And that's...not exactly true. I also do see why he gets audited so often - if he really hires "the best of the best" to do everything, he needs to hire someone else to do his campaign financials because they're pretty sloppy compared to everyone else. Perhaps his income taxes are just as squirrelly.)
The point here is that I encountered cognitive dissonance: someone I respected had something pretty serious to accuse someone else I respected about. I could've just ignored Mike Farris. Or I could've just bounced on to a different candidate to support and forgotten about Cruz altogether. It takes a lot of effort and thought to reach back through other peoples' analysis and find the information to form a thought myself. It takes so much effort that I don't relish it and wish I could just trust other people to write nice neat articles affirming or refuting these kinds of accusations.
But that's not how good decisions are made.
The same holds true in all facets of life. Learning to ask ourselves questions, to face the process of chasing down the answers and not accept careless assumptions in the process, to keep probing our own minds to make sure we aren't just taking in what someone else has said as our own belief...it's the toughest challenge to face, I think. Looking objectively at my own mind and singling out things I've taken for granted that may or may not be true is seriously tough. Questions are disturbing. Change hurts.
If there's one thing about an earnest desire for truth, though, it's that you have to be willing to look at the one-star reviews on an Amazon listing instead of just accepting the five-star ones because you'd like the cool product. You have to be able to look at questions you don't want to ask and not be content with surface explanations. You have to be willing to look at yourself and say, "I know I thought this...but I was wrong."
And then change direction and love truth more so that next time it won't be quite as painful.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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