Friday, May 31, 2013

Am I Worth It?

I have noticed a pattern of late, one that I was able to extrapolate back to many of my past interactions and observations of people's behavior. Of the ones that I have observed, people tend to over-generalize specific behavior in others that causes them hurt, saying to the offending individual that he or she has a pattern of doing that to "people". They tend to make two assumptions about a person's normative behavior based on just a couple of very specific bad interactions with that person:
  1. The person that hurt me always acts that way towards everyone.
  2. Everyone else re-acts to that person's behavior the same way that I did.
There is also a very similar set of assumptions that I believe are based in the same set of underlying issues:
  1. Everyone else would react the same way I did to this person's behavior.
  2. Since this person has friends that seem to enjoy his or her company, this person must be treating me differently than he or she treats everyone else.
Now, it is entirely possible that these particular assumptions are in fact true for any given specific individual. But even if they are true, in the behavior I have observed in others, those assumptions haven't been based on observing how the offending individual has interacted with others outside the  hurt person's field of view. These people have jumped to these conclusions without sufficient evidence. And as I considered this pattern recently, I was forced to ask the question: Why? Why doesn't the hurt individual simply approach the one who hurt them and say "You really hurt my feelings" rather than "You are hurtful towards people"?

I see two possibilities, and they aren't mutually exclusive. There are probably more, but this is what I see.

One, in the eyes of those who are hurt, it is possible that such assumptions lessen or eliminate the responsibility they feel for their own reactions to the offending behavior. "Well, if he always does this to people, or if he is going out of his way to treat me this badly, then it is his fault that I feel like this. He is the one that needs to change." Do you see yourself in this statement? It may very well be true that the offending person needs to change, but that does not negate your responsibility to have Christ-like reactions when people hurt you. For more on this, see my post entitled Do not fail to extend grace.

The second possibility brings me to the heart of this post. In considering that question of why many people don't just come out and tell someone that person hurt them, I believe something like this may be running through their minds: "I am afraid that the person who hurt me won't value me enough as a person to care that he hurt me." Simply telling someone "you hurt me" requires reliance on the other person caring that he or she hurt you. That's a scary place to be for many people. Furthermore, for those who have been hurt, the initial hurt itself can easily contribute to that uncertainty of intrinsic worth in the eyes of the offending person. From there, it's a fairly logical step to say, "If they won't change for me, maybe I can convince them to see that this is a pervasive problem that they need to change for themselves." Understandable, but certainly not preferable.

Do you see yourself in the previous paragraph? First, I would have you understand that as one created in the image God, you are valuable as a person because God says so. If you are a disciple of Christ, your intrinsic value is magnified by the fact that Jesus paid a price that cannot be measured to redeem you from eternal punishment for your sins. Your value as a person is secure in God, independent of how any one person acts towards you.

Second, I hope you can also see that broad sweeping statements directed at a person's character, ones that are quite possibly not true, can cause just as much pain for them as they caused for you, possibly more. It's one thing for someone to act insensitively towards you in a singular moment or two. It is quite another for you to come back and claim that the person has the fundamental character flaw of being insensitive by nature.

You should always strive to live at peace with everyone, and do not fail to extend them grace when they hurt you (Hebrews 12:14-15 ESV). When you are hurt, tell the person plainly "You hurt me" rather than "You have a tendency to do this to 'people'". If you do see a faulty pattern and want to help that person correct the pattern, I urge you to spend time studying what it means to instruct with gentleness, especially checking your motivation in seeking to correct. If you are in the mode of "I want that person to feel sorry that they hurt me and change so that they will stop hurting me," you should probably not say anything in the vein of trying to correct a "pattern". If you truly want to see your brother or sister grow in Christ-likeness, proceed carefully in love.