In the eye of the beholder

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins” (Proverbs 10:12 NKJV).

When I walked out on the campus early one morning before devotional, one of the teachers, Arther, was out by the main gate. When I joined him he greeted me with, “It is a beautiful morning.” We walked back together to the building where the devotional was to be, and there Siroj, a student, said, “The weather is bad today.”

On the same day, in the same place, within two or three minutes, two people expressed exact opposite opinions of the same phenomenon. How can that be? We understand that each saw the day through the perspective of his particular experience and preset opinions. One’s culture, background, experience, motives, attitude, and expectations, among many other things, all contribute to his or her point of view.

It is observable fact that almost never does anyone see events with complete factual objectivity. Even if we are not biased by our own attitudes and experience, we cannot see an event simultaneously from every angle or all sides. Two objects which appear to be very close to each other from one spot may turn out to be several feet apart when seen from another side.

It is often stated in literature that lawyers do not like cases built on eyewitness testimony. This seems strange to the non-lawyer. One is brought up to think that a witness’ testimony is absolute proof. Yet it is demonstrated often that the testimony of multiple witnesses is contradictory, changes, and is often obviously unreliable. We frequently see what we expect to see (and don’t see what we don’t expect), rather than what is really there.

In addition, we are also prone to interpret what we see and remember the interpretation rather than the exact events. We see part of a series of events, then the result of the series, and our mind fills in the missing parts so that we “remember” the whole thing.

All of this illustrates the importance of understanding our own perspective and of striving to achieve the best possible. Solomon spoke of the opposite results of hatred and love. One with anger or malice in his heart sees others as opponents and enemies. His every impulse is towards strife. One whose heart is filled with love sees the good in others, and minimizes or overlooks the bad.

James gives a deeper analysis. “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members” (James 4:1-2). If we are asked why we fought another, our answer would most often be about what he did to us. The other person is usually blamed as the cause. James says that, no, we are the cause of the fights we have. “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war.”

The perspective from which we see others will determine how we treat them. If we are suspicious, they will always appear guilty. If we feel unjustly treated, then all they do is aimed at our harm. We all have known cases where “whatever so-and-so does, it is wrong.” Most of us have had that attitude at some point.

Like weather, people and circumstances are rarely all good or all bad. Which we choose to see, and how we classify them, usually depends more on us than them. Let Paul’s words shape our point of view:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not see its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

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