Do you enter the room mouth first or are you sensitive to your friends as you meet them where they are rather than expecting them to think and act like you? This other-centered aspect of the gospel can transform your friendships.
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I was listening to The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, and he shared a story about a man who watched a 4.5-second video clip of a family. He studied the video for thousands of hours over a one-year period. He sliced the tape into fractions of seconds so he could watch it frame by frame, thousands of times from every conceivable angle.
He believed that people’s actions and reactions work in a symphonic dance with each other and thought he could prove his theory by watching the 4.5-second video for thousands of hours.
At the end of one year, he saw what he hoped to see. At different points he noticed how when one person said or did something, it triggered a corresponding and comparable response from another person in the group.
Social psychologists are always digging, probing, tweaking, and reflecting on the human condition, hoping to find new discoveries as to why we do what we do and how we can live more effectively with each other. I find it interesting and even sometimes illuminating to read how our non-biblio-centric culture tries to solve the mysterious interaction between hamartiology and anthropology within social constructs.
The conclusion of his study is that people affect people. If I yell at you, it will set off a comparable response in you that will motivate you to yell back or run. While I’m glad he affirmed what we already know, I found it interesting and somewhat impressive regarding his determination, perseverance, and conclusions.
He said that we all have imperceptible “micro-rhythms” that are so brief that we don’t perceive them. But when they are strung together like a pearl necklace, thousands of micro-rhythms form motions that give shape to a personality that compels us to respond positively or negatively to what an individual is saying to you.
People Affect People
I have a Christian friend who does not read people well. He approaches me in a loud and overly-charismatic way. It is kind of like a human freight train. When I see him coming, I want to avoid him because he does not scale down his personality to me but pushes me to be as “over the top” as he is, which is my anti-personality. I’m not “his way” and to be that way is viscerally uncomfortable. It’s not who I am.
Rather than him approaching me the way I want someone to approach me and engage me in a way that frees me to be the way God made me, I have to “speed up my personality” just to keep up with his. I have to “think faster” and respond quicker to him because he operates at a speed that is at least 15 MPH faster than mine. This type of fast-paced personality typically leaves me mentally stumbling and usually tempts me to jumble out things differently from how I’d like to say them if I were thinking and talking at my pace.
After spending time with him, I want to take a nap. When I see him approaching me, I have this angst of dread, hoping the engagement won’t last long. Think of a used car salesman coming at you with a lot of white teeth and a big smile as he smothers you with his salesmanship. His collective micro-rhythms motivate you to buy the car just to make him go away. This guy is a Christian leader.
Ironically, I have a pagan friend who knows how to read people. Rather than overpowering you with his personality, he senses your vibe and adjusts his “micro-rhythms” so that we’re both in sync. He’s easy to engage. It’s a synchronized “give and take” rather than a competitive event. Yes, he’s a narcissist, but I’d rather hang with him than the Christian leader.
Good Vibes Applied
Disciplers – Good disciplers have good micro-rhythms. They get the gospel. Rather than imposing their will on the other person, they read the person they want to help. They weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). Their personality is always other-centered.
Parents – This concept is something parents need to learn. When a child makes a mistake, and you yell at your child, you “accelerate the child’s soul” to fear you. But if you bring a calming voice to your child, you will put him at ease, which will open the door to address the problem rather than making things more complicated by your lack of other-centered selflessness.
Marriage – Husbands and wives need to learn this as well. If a husband is harsh to his wife or if a wife is unkind to her husband, those reactions will cause an adversarial chain reaction, or what the social psychologist said in the Gladwell book: your “micro-rhythms” will tempt the other person to respond accordingly. Or run from you.
Christians – I’ve also seen this with some fervent believers. They are so intense in what they believe that they are off-putting. The things they have learned in twenty years of trying, failing, and succeeding, they act as though the unregenerate world should be like them. Rather than understanding their culture, they can become sinfully angry.
While learning from a social psychologist can be intriguing as they put a new shade on an old problem, we don’t need their insight since we already know these things. You reap what you sow. If you sow to the flesh, you will reap corruption (Galatians 6:7-8).
Our psychologist friends reject God, so they create ideas like micro-rhythms from their anti-God presuppositions. That does not surprise me. What would surprise me is if they did not try to postulate an anti-God solution. But I do like reading those things from time to time while running them through a biblical hermeneutical grid. Though I disagree with his presupposition, the Lord used his research to remind that I must be sensitive to those around me.
Conclusion – Rather than expecting people to bend to my personality, I want to survey the scene of their souls and respond in a way that does not trouble them but relaxes them to be who they are so I can meet them at that place and serve them in a way that brings gospel transformation.
Call to Action
- Do you know how to read people so you can adjust to their personality, which gives you the ability to bring more redemptive care?
- Or do you “walk in the room mouth first” without taking the temperature of those around you to see how you can help them?
At the heart of the gospel is a God who became a man so He could come to where we were with the hope of helping us to get to where we should be–with Him in eternity.
Also published on Medium.