Take a walk and observe people. Listen to people. Watch how people live through their insecurities and lack, forcing a persona of who they are not because they feel a need to compensate for how they see themselves. Others are just comparing themselves with people around, trying to focus their efforts in being like someone else. Ask questions and be surprised of how much you can learn of a person based on questions and answers. Pay attention to the answers and you will realize how many people answer to a question different from the one that was asked. See how fear, assumptions, biases, and the interpretations they sustain from experiences brings a lack of identity and the freedom to live who they are, who they are created to be. Sometimes freedom is just waiting. Sometimes freedom is in the heart a decision away.
Israeli-American psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, recognized from his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, and behavioral economics, who was also awarded a Nobel Memorial Prize in economic sciences in 2002, explores the dynamics of question and answer in his book Think Fast and Slow. I fell in love with this book. I use some of the principles he presents for my Inquiry class. I’ve seen great results on how students become more aware of their own understanding when they examine the question and the answer. Kahneman explains that people often answer a different question from the one was asked because it is easier to answer a question that provides ease of mind that the one that challenges them. A “hard” question is replaced for a question that is “easy” to answer because it removes responsibility from our decision-making process, and places responsibility on others for our condition.
Attribution Theory, in a very similar fashion explains processes in which people explain causes for behaviors and events. Oversimplified, attribution theory explains that an individual will “blame” someone or something outside of their own self for their condition, but “blame” a person’s condition of reasons within the self. In other words, what is happening to me is not my fault but the fault of others and the circumstances surrounding me, but what is happening to you is your own fault. When asked about our own condition, we will find excuses around us, not within us. When asked about someone else’s condition, it is definitely their fault.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is confronted with a situation like this. John 5:1-15 tells:
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat. ”But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ “ So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
Before I understood Kahneman’s perspective or attribution theory, I was fascinated how this man replied to the simple question: “Do you want to get well?” One might think that after all those years in that condition a person might like to enjoy he freedom that comes with health. This is a close-ended yes and no question, but the answer reveals so much more. Did he hear the question at all? It was so easy to answer a different question, one that was not asked, to place responsibility on others for the condition. Moreover, after Jesus healed him, the responsibility for carrying the mat he was not his. Interesting, right? It is always someone else’s fault. The story doesn’t specify what his sin was. We can play the assumption game and brainstorm some possibilities. If you ask me, I think his sin was his lack of ownership, initiative, and identity. You can infer your own if you will.
How many times do we do the same? How many times we live out of our insecurities and lack of identity to blame people and circumstances for not achieving freedom? There are circumstances where people are not to be blamed for what was done to them, but when freedom is knocking at the door, what is stopping you from taking it? Freedom is in the heart a decision away. Do you want to get well?