The Perils of First Glances and Certainty

Nov 1, 2020

By Reverend Rebecca Bryan

The thought came to me seemingly without provocation: “The camera lens is covered.” I jolted into recognition when I realized what was revealed.

The camera on my computer had been “broken” for days, or so I thought. I blamed this apparent malfunction on my husband because that’s what we do (or, at least, I can do) – point the finger, thinking we know what’s going on.

My husband had recently installed a webcam on my computer, and I was sure that was why my computer camera didn’t work. Fortunately, the names I called him were only in my head, but they were there, nonetheless. “Stupid fool, why do I let him work on my computer?”

I had resigned myself to the fact that the camera no longer worked, when out of nowhere one morning the thought came to me – “The camera lens is covered!” Running into my office, I affirmed that indeed my camera lens was covered by the little black doohickey I had bought to cover it.

This is a funny story, and it has some painful truths, including the danger of quick judgment and thinking we know the answer, or the Perils of First Glances and Certainty.

We all know intellectually that we shouldn’t make assumptions, jump to conclusions, or pass judgment. Yet, we can’t help ourselves, not because we are morally inferior, but because we have a biological disposition for bias. Unconsciously, or preconsciously, our minds are constantly asking, “Am I safe?” and “Do I belong?” It takes conscious effort and determined practice to respond differently.

Valerie Kaur in her book See No Stranger writes about how implicit bias infects us all and robs us of our sense of wonder. “Failure to wonder,” Kaur says, “is the beginning of violence.” [1] We can’t be curious, wonder-filled, and awestruck when passing judgment, assigning meaning, and ensuring that we know what is happening. That kind of false security is a lie. It doesn’t make us safer; it disconnects us from ourselves, each other, and wonder. We learn when we are open and willing to not know.

Kaur acknowledges the difficulty in changing these thought patterns and offers a suggestion that works, even in its simplicity. She says that when we look at a person we don’t know, we can ask ourselves, “What did they have for dinner last night?” That simple question interrupts a neurological thought pattern that has been ingrained in us for millennia.

“There are no strangers,” Kaur writes repeatedly, “only parts of myself I do not know yet.” 

I believe wonder, openness, and the willingness to know that we don’t know everything are key aspects of being resilient. We can fool ourselves into thinking that being on guard, defended, and all-knowing makes us resilient. My experience is that being on guard, defended, and all-knowing makes us set apart and lonely.

Our ministry theme this month is resilience. Yes, we knew what would be happening when we chose this theme. Regardless of the outcome of the election, we will all be called to adapt. If the election goes as you hope, you will need to adapt so you can be the kind of people you want to be, in relationship with those for whom it didn’t go the way they hoped. Alternatively, you will also need to adapt if the election doesn’t turn out the way you hoped. Either way, it will be a new reality.

The Mayo Clinic defines resilience as “adaptability to adversity.” I love that. Resilience is the ability to change, refine, or transform in response to challenges, large and small, personal and political.

What makes us resilient? Any number of things, but drawing on the tales we’ve heard today, let’s focus on three. First is remembering that we are always seeing only part of the story, touching part of the elephant. Second is that we don’t know the real outcome of things, as much as we think we do. Is it good? Maybe. Is it bad? Maybe. More likely it’s both.

Consider the pandemic. There are so many losses, and there are gifts, which I say with utmost of respect. I know the gifts are more abundant to some of us than others. This pandemic has showed me how resilient we are and given me an ever-deepening appreciation for what we have in this community. I finally starting some writing I have dreamt of doing for decades, and I even began watching a sitcom, something I never would have done pre-pandemic.

What does resilience look like for you today? What area of your life are you resilient in, and what area is challenging for you? Who is a model for you of someone who lives with resilience? What inspires you about them?

These are the questions we will be discussing after the service on a Zoom gathering. I hope you will join us. We need to stick together, learn from one another, and be open to what may come.

I know these are challenging times. These days are critically important, and at the same time, as our Unitarian forebearer Theodore Parker said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

We are here. We are here in this time. We are here in this way.

Whatever may come. We are in this together. And we will come through this together.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Kaur, Valerie, See No Stranger Penguin Random House, New York, NY. 2020 pg. 11.

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