Monday, January 26, 2009

Perceptions and Reality

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

It’s always good to have certain conversations that highlight how people perceive you for various reasons. One it at least lets you know where they stand. Two, it also reveals the opinions of others regarding your position. Thirdly it highlights what stereotypes and perceptions people have of a person in a particular position. There are others but those will do for now.

One thing it reminds me of, which is a lesson I’ve been taught on a number of occasions, is that it’s all about perceptions. You could very well be doing a lot of essential groundwork, research and toil on a given subject, but if that’s not the perception and if the one received is rather different then it’s all for nought.

When I worked for the then Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions in the summer of 1997 I was first expressly taught the lesson. At the time it was a work placement over the summer holiday as part of the Windsor Fellowship scheme of which I am an honoured graduate. The time was spent working in a particular department given various rather mundane chores to complete. My supervisor at the time, the underrated and respected Janet Albon (yeah Mr. Spell-check & Ms Red-Line-Under-Word, not Albion, but Albon) knew she was giving me projects and tasks that were a bit beneath me. This was evident in the speed and diligence with which I completed the tasks – it’s not being big-headed, it’s just stating facts.

Being new to the world of office gossip and politics I was very na├»ve to the importance of appearances. So at the time I was given a desk and a computer and to while the time away I would engage in everyone’s favourite office pastime of beating my score on Minesweeper and eventually moving up the levels and attaining quick scores on them. My problem was that I was very indiscreet, so it was the prerogative of those who couldn’t be bothered to talk to me about it to my face to gossip behind my back about this dude who just spent his time playing Minesweeper while others were doing such earnest and honest hard work as paid by Her Majesty’s Appointed and Elected government. Thankfully word got round to Janet about it and she had a discreet word in my shell-like to alert me of those haters that would seek to bring me down with faint praise and the kisses of the enemy. So from there I was taught my first lesson in perception. It doesn’t really matter what you actually achieve and what you contribute, it’s how things appear.

Subsequent lessons would bring my attention that earnest long hours of slaving away at things is not as prudent as selectively choosing the times to maximise the effort whilst conserving energy at other times and not killing yourself. So more than working hard it’s about working smart. Now for the Jacobs and Labans among us – we know who we are – before it comes across as though I’m promoting being dodgy and tricky in how you approach things, that’s not quite what I talking about. Hard work is still a part of the deal, intense effort will be called upon and to an extent there’s a feeling of justifiably giving your all when you feel as though it’s cost you something. Where the brain bit comes in though is to be aware of what perceptions are required to give people the necessary impression to keep things ticking along. It’s not about compromise and especially in a Christian context it’s not about fitting into the status quo to be men-pleasers. It is about thinking things through and being aware of the impact it will have on the audience – being wise as serpents and harmless as doves to give it a scriptural peg to hang it on.

As well as this, sometimes if it appears as though you’re doing the work and you’re actually doing the work then people have one less thing to criticise you for, something that Peter was at pains to encourage fellow-believers in his first letter. It’s a good lesson to learn and one that’s come up again and again in subsequent years – as politicians realise sometimes to their own downfall appearances can be costly even if the smoke is not an indication of a fire. The reality of the opening scripture is that people run off perceived appearances without always looking to get to the heart of the issue. Indeed, only God can get the insight on the heart, being the Creator and everything. That’s why it’s crucial to bear this in mind when people come to the wrong conclusions about appearance and reality, and to be sensitive to this in whatever we display. I thank God for the reminder of this lesson and hope to apply it to this degree to His honour and glory.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

For His Name’s Sake

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