It Ain't Necessarily So

How strong are your convictions?  How do others perceive the way you live those convictions?  How often does truth turn out to be different than initial perceptions?  I found myself wondering about these questions after seeing the video, A Cry In The Dark.  It’s about an Australian couple who takes their family including a newborn baby on holiday to Ayers Rock, a national park in Australia.  One night, while they were socializing around a campfire a few yards away, a dingo snuck into their unattended tent and stole their baby.  The true story that unfolded received national news coverage.

My first reaction to the mother’s reaction was to note how cold she seemed.  Even later, while the father was falling apart, she appeared stoic.  I, in fact, interpreted this to be “another dysfunctional person stuffing their feelings.”  But it never fails as soon as I judge someone, I’m shown the true value of judging others.  Nothing!

In actuality, she was a very spiritual person and was living her trust in her Higher Power.  When I removed my judgmental glasses, I could see that she and her husband were really hurting from the loss of their daughter, but they leaned on their faith and continued forward.  They pressed on to the point where they felt it essential to go public and warn others hoping to prevent them from experiencing their kind of pain.

Then you discover they belonged to a religious faith foreign to most of the people of the area they were those strange people with the weird beliefs.  Unfortunately, humans have a tendency to strike out at what we don’t understand.  After all, it may force us to take a good hard look at our own opinions, fears, convictions, and so on when it’s “easier” to go on the defensive and lash out, thereby diverting our attention away from ourselves and the need for our own internal work.

This woman was actually convicted and served time, probably because her “coolness” made the jury think she had harmed the baby and blamed it on the dingo.   But for the mother, her appearance of “coolness” was actually a demonstration of her conviction to her faith.  Years later, when a prime piece of evidence surfaced and her case was retried, the inaccuracies of the first trial showed just how prejudiced the jury of “her peers” had been.  How often in life have people been punished for what they believe?  It’s sad that we can’t allow others to walk their own path of
discovery.  And sadder yet that we just don’t seem to learn from history.

Two personal examples dealing with my strong spiritual belief come to mind.  Years ago, I joined the Unity Church.  I was raised as a Presbyterian and consider it a very positive, joyful part of my childhood.  Another part of my Kansas childhood included regular Sunday drives with the family.  Occasionally we would go to Unity Village where that religion began.  I remember it as this weird place that had beautiful rose gardens (our reason for going), where we would eat in a cafeteria my father didn’t particularly like because they didn’t serve much meat (as in vegetarian).  Generally, there was a mystery about this place I had a feeling there was something that my family didn’t quite approve of, yet we visited it to see its wonderful gardens.  Talk about mixed messages!

Now here I am, years later, changing from one of the most supportive, positive aspects of my childhood to one joined to this place of childhood mystery.  This happened because I got more facts I found out personally what Unity was all about and it fit very well with my beliefs.

The story doesn’t end here.  After I joined the church, my next hurdle was telling my mom.  As expected, she was not pleased.  However, after a year or so, we had a very wonderful, intimate conversation about my switch to Unity.  This brings up my second example.  It started with Mom finally sharing that she was having difficulty with my reference to God as my Higher Power.  Now to me God is a concept/faith/belief with lots of names.  What name I use doesn’t change how I feel.  But I’ve learned through life that people often have difficulty with personal definitions of particular words and that the best way to be heard is to be cognizant of others’ feelings about those words, especially if it does not harm
my own self-esteem.  Since this allows me to communicate better with people and reach a common ground, why not?  It takes into account others’ feelings and makes us partners and isn’t that what true communication is really about?

So here we were, back again to perception.  At a time in my life when I felt more connected to God than I ever had, my mother was expressing concern about my beliefs.  This came as such a shock to me.  After all, couldn’t she see how strong my faith was by observing my actions?  Ah, you mean not everyone interprets my actions the way I do?

The joy is that we were able to talk it through (thanks to Mom bringing it up) and that we are, I think, closer now than ever.  To me that’s the key we need to talk about things.  We continue to form our own judgments, often on faulty data, because we don’t search out the facts, through discussion, experiencing, or sharing with others.  Actually, if I’m really honest with myself, I knew Mom was uncomfortable with my new beliefs.  Why did I have to wait for her to initiate the conversation? 

The idea of how we interpret others’ actions and often form our judgments on faulty data reminds me of another movie, A Perfect Mind.  Here was a man who won a Nobel Prize and was a genius in math, but due to mental illness was more often perceived as an idiot.  What if more people had actually spent time trying to understanding him by talking to him face-to-face instead of laughing behind his back?

What do you think, is there someone or some concept you’re judging on faulty facts or limited knowledge?  How about someone you’re waiting for to initiate a conversation?  What do we have to lose by letting others be themselves or by asking them to share their thoughts?  Better yet, what may we gain?