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Judgments and Generalizations and Vows, Oh My!

March 1, 2021

This article is the third of four installments about learning how to trust all over again. With all we have gone through recently with COVID-19, elections, masks, and isolation from quarantines, there will be some trust issues in most people about almost everything.

Here's a learning-to-trust-again example. Let's consider Bob, who has put his pastor on a pedestal. He believes that his pastor can do no wrong, that he always speaks the words of God, that he is a perfect Christian, abounding in wisdom and understanding. But when that pastor, as pastors will, makes a mistake in handling a situation, or says something that touches an exposed nerve in Bob’s life, or even falls into a moral problem, then what happens to Bob? He feels hurt or betrayed.

Then Bob may think, “All pastors are alike. I was stupid to trust Him. If I’m smart, I’ll never trust another pastor again.” Did you ever feel that way about a pastor, boss, spouse, or public official? I have. I’ve met many Bobs throughout the years.

Notice how Bob made a judgment and a generalization about all pastors based on one pastor. Pastors are all alike. I was stupid to trust him. Then he made a vow - I'll never trust another pastor again. He judged, made a vow, and then generalized. Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

Judgments and vows are not all bad. If you touch your hand on a hot stove burner and decide not to do that again, that is wisdom. However, if you decided never to touch a stove again, that would be overgeneralizing. Many times, when you generalize, you end up living by self-imposed 'general lies.'

What about Bob? Perhaps he should have been more realistic about his pastor. Perhaps making his pastor and church a god created an expectation in Bob that only the real God could fulfill. Maybe Bob should get involved in a church again, only this time he needs to focus more on Jesus.

When I broke my leg skiing, I had to put things in perspective. Maybe all ski runs are not evil! Perhaps I should ski again, but this time not on double black diamond runs named Rattlesnake. That's wisdom, not an overreaction.

Mark Twain once said, “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again, and that is well, but she will never sit down on a cold stove lid either.”

Let’s get back to Bob. What happens if the object we place our trust in fails, disappoints, hurts us, or does not meet our expectations? We act or react - often more emotionally than rationally. As a result, we make internal vows about what or what not to trust.

In the human reasoning process, individuals evaluate their own experiences, form judgments about those experiences, and then make a vow to guide future decisions. Webster defines a vow as "…a solemn promise or pledge, esp. one made to God or a god, dedicating oneself to an act, service or way of life."

For example, when you experience burning your hand on a stove, you most likely will make the following judgments: “that’s hot, that hurts, and I don’t like it.” These judgments lead to a vow, “I’m never going to touch a hot stove again!” Vowing not to touch a hot stove will protect you, but making a vow you will never trust anyone, or anything again can devastate you.

Vows vary in intensity from weak to powerful. The more powerful they are, the more the vow influences your decisions and behavior. Here are three rules about vows. First, the more traumatic the experience, the more powerful the resulting vow. Second, the more often the experience, the more powerful the resulting vow. Third, the more recent the experience, the more powerful the resulting vow.

Intensity, frequency, and recency all contribute to the power of the vow. What does this mean? If something horrible happened to you more than once and not too long ago, you would not let yourself get into that situation again soon. That can either be good or bad depending on what happened and who or what you trusted!

Webster defines generalization as “to infer or derive a general law or precept from particular instances.”  Many times, the vows we make emotionally turn into generalizations such as, “I’m never going to get hurt again.” “I’m not going to be betrayed again.” “I’m never going to be vulnerable again.” “All men are…” “All women are…” “All politicians are…” “All liberals are…” “All conservatives are…” “All churches are…” Sound familiar? 

It may seem like it or even feel like it, but “Not all pastors are…” “Not all women or men are…” “Not all liberals or conservatives are…”

What’s the problem with the song that says, “I’ll never fall in love again…all men will never phone you…all men have pneumonia…?” The singer will miss the person who would love her, phone her, and doesn't have enough germs to catch pneumonia. Just like that cat will never step on a hot stove, she vowed she would never fall in love again. One experience doesn’t make every experience.

Next week, let’s regain our trust by trusting wisely. If it’s going to be, it starts with me.

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Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com