Thursday, January 31, 2008

Perception is 9/10 of the law

Lately I've been thinking about how perception is 9/10 of the law. A little bit of back story. I used to watch ER, pretty regularly, and then after leaving to live abroad, I never really got into it regularly. But then I heard last season that they had added a female chaplain. I was intrigued to see what they did with that and took it up again. And much to my chagrin the first night I watched she went on a first day with Uncle Jesse, I mean, Dr. what's his name, and they had sex. I was so excited to see a chaplain on the show, let alone a female, and then she fell into the same sex crazed habits as the rest of the cast and I was heartbroken and frustrated.

It's strange how much time pastors, myself included, spend trying to convince people that we're normal, not perfect, that we have lives, have fun, maybe have a drink on occasion, or cuss....or whatever to try and normalize ourselves. And yet, if we dance too closely with that so-called normalcy, we lose integrity, or at least we tarnish the integrity of the office.

When my sister was in seminary, I went to visit. On the message board there was a workshop being advertised and the core question was, "Should pastors, and seminarians, be held to a different standard than everyone else." My instant reaction was NO!! Not because I don't think we shouldn't be held accountable, but because I think we should all have the same standards--of right action, right speech, right thought, mercy, compassion, justice. The bar should be held equally high for all. But at the same time, I had to acknowledge the fact that "everyone else" does not maintain the standard and that to say no may mean, more often than not, that we lower the bar for pastors/seminarians rather than raise it for "everyone else". In other words, because the cultural norms have become so loose, it is important that pastors toe the line more closely. There has to be some distinction between us and others, unless of course the others want to toe the line too.

So back to the perception is 9/10 of the law is not always our intentions that matter, but how they are perceived. We may mean to be compassionate and caring, but if we are misinterpreted because of a look or a touch, we may face major legal trouble, or an ugly accusation, or whatever else. The question ceases to be whether we were or weren't, it becomes how the action was perceived. The same can be said about honesty--we were perceived to be telling the truth, not were we, but what was the perception. Or even having "just a drink"--it's not (in my mind) about the one drink, it's about how that can be perceived...often if people see one beer, they assume 3 or 4...and that's a problem. Or we could have a bad day and be terse or abrupt and have people believing we're upset with them. Perceptions matter. We may wish they didn't. We may curse the way people confuse our words, or forget conversations, or fill in the blanks with whatever craziness may fill their heads, but perceptions are a reality of human relations, and we have to acknowledge them, for they are 9/10 of the law.

1 comment:

John Meunier said...

Deb, this rings true to me.

I wonder if it works the other way, too. People see you do something compassionate or full of grace and assume you spend all day dwelling on such things.

Maybe the kind-hearted ones at least.