Here is another bit of advice that has carried me far: consider the source. This seems to take on much deeper meaning during this time of misinformation and disinformation. When considering information or input, take the time to evaluate from whom you are receiving the information. What is their agenda? What biases affect the giving or receiving of this information? Algorithms are accelerating information loops that read our responses and feed our biases for the purpose of marketing. We start thinking we are right, if we hear our own voice echoed often enough, regardless of its true connection with reality. Pausing may make a world of difference in not only information flow, but personal relationships. Start by considering the source.
Let’s focus first on the relational level. Does a specific person giving you feedback actually care for you? Do they have your best interests in mind? My younger sister and I are separated in age by sixteen months. For most of our childhood, people thought we were twins. One of my favorite pictures of my sister and me was while traveling to North Carolina from Florida with our family. We were about five and six years old. There stood a tall, gray water fountain at a gas station that neither of us could conquer alone. We took turns getting on our hands and knees and stood on each other’s backs for the purpose of getting a drink of water.
This inspirational and symbolic moment is a snapshot of trust and cooperation. When someone has been willing to let you stand on their back for a drink of water, you are willing to trust them. Having the attitude of a servant is part of earning the right to be heard. As Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”Jesus in Luke 6:43-45
Now let’s see how this applies on a communal level. Some societies and ethnic groups are more tuned-in to contextual cues and referred to as high context cultures. I learned this concept from a workshop presenter named Milton Creagh. Members of these cultural groups pay attention to what is being said based on the context of who is saying the words. Accordingly, they might respond positively IF they accept the credibility of the messenger. In our English-influenced society, we tend to listen to professionals based on their credentials. But this is not necessarily true in high-context cultures. By the way, Generation Z (those 24 years old and younger) is reasonably considered a high-context culture. As a group, the do not tend to trust authority or logic, only relationships vetted by personal experience.
Much of the information tsunami in social media has nothing to do with truth but with “hits” or “views” or “likes” or “comments”, which ultimately results in money or power for someone. When we become obsessed with seeking the approval of others, we are giving up control over ourselves. Most of us want to be liked, but this can be a dangerous power to be put in the hands of others, some with the intention to harm us. Nefarious players are seducing wide swaths of our population by sowing seeds of untruth and chaos. Consider the source. These are dangerous influencers who can certainly lead many to violence, and already have.
So, whether we are talking about a relationship, neighborhood, classroom, or any other social construct, sometimes the crowd will love you, sometimes they will hate you. Best to get used to it. Best to keep our eyes fixed on the Savior who already walked this road ahead of us regardless of the response from the spectators.
Never be too enamored with their cheers. Never be too intimidated by their jeers. Palm Sunday and Good Friday are only five days apart.
Jesus was aware the source of the Sunday praise and the Friday cruelty was essentially the same. Both crowds wanted to use him for their own unsavory purposes. Those intentions were evil; each wanted to control the Son of God for some worldly gain. Sunday was an effort to thwart Roman control, Friday to avoid Roman retribution.
Why do we need the approval of others? Sometimes, we even seek sanction from those who mean us harm. Isn’t that odd? Be wise. Be discerning. Act don’t react. Pause and consider. Pray.
And importantly, always consider the source.
(Adapted from a chapter in Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road by the author of this blog.)