Last night I was on my way to hang out with some friends, and I noticed a car parked right near the mailboxes at the exit gate of my neighborhood. It was parked haphazardly, the car was off, and no one was inside. It became clear to me that it was the property manager's vehicle, a sweet woman in her 60s. I immediately became concerned that she had been abducted (my mind is usually 0-60 within seconds). I sort of froze and didn't know what to do, so when I got back home I asked my roommate if she had seen the car. Thankfully, she actually saw the woman stopping to get her mail and saw that her car wouldn't start back up. Immediate relief! I went to bed.
This morning, I decided to go check the mail, and noticed a rather nasty note stuck under the windshield wiper on the woman's car, claiming she was inconsiderate and implying that the person didn't even live here (this tenant must be relatively new, or perhaps didn't know what car the property manager drove). I was floored at this response by another person, for two reason: 1) it typically doesn't cross my mind to leave unfriendly notes on vehicles and 2) there was enough room for a vehicle to get out if they drove carefully. But the note seemed to root from one major issue: a lack of understanding.
I give this detailed illustration for good reason - I notice this pattern of lack of understanding and what it yields all over the place, including my own heart. When we don't understand something that seems wrong to us or unjust, we get defensive, we get angry, and we complain or take matters into our own hands. It is man's sinful nature to do it. Don't we see this in political issues day after day? Don't we see it among differing races and cultures? Don't we see it in the workplace? It plagues us. A lack of understanding yields increased hostility. Must it always?
The short answer is no.
Here is the long answer. Before I begin, I want to be clear that a gain in understanding doesn't necessarily yield unity or peace. There are certain things I won't agree with for the duration of my life, no matter how much I come to understand about them. But I digress; my reason for writing this has little to do with political issues such as gay marriage or immigration policy or the like, but more for the day to day issues such as a someone being rude to us at work, or a car being parked in a bad place.
When we don't understand something, our jerk reaction is to lash out, often because we don't even realize that we don't understand. I'm sure that the tenant who left that note more than likely thought they had it all figured out. I imagine his/her thoughts were something like this: "This person doesn't live here and obviously didn't know they can't park there. They left their car in the way because they are a rude and inconsiderate person." I am guilty of the same thought processes myself at times. I get mad when someone cuts me off in traffic. I am insulted when a friend cancels plans at the last minute to hang out with someone else. I am annoyed when my food takes forever to come out of the kitchen at a restaurant. When I don't realize that I don't understand something, I become incredibly defensive, frustrated, and hostile. I want justice (or my version of justice) to be served.
So, how do we become aware of our lack of understanding?
1. Assume that there's something you don't know. If you feel like something wrong has happened, assume there is something you aren't seeing under the surface. Give the benefit of the doubt. The person who cut you off in traffic maybe had been faced with having to make a quick decision while driving. Or, more than likely, they did it inadvertently, and might even feel bad about it. We've all been there. The food at the restaurant might be taking an extra moment because they're training a new employee and therefore taking extra time to make sure they learn everything correctly. If it were you, you'd want people to be patient. When we find out the reasoning behind an issue we face, we're less likely to get mad, and more likely to give grace.
2. Seek God on how to seek understanding. We are commanded in Scripture to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1). If your seeking understanding of the circumstance itself is fruitless, seek God. Even if He does not bring a worldly understanding, He brings a focus on Himself and a peace to let go and give grace.
The path you choose to take when difficult moments arise witnesses to the world who you are; be one who chooses to stop and understand, rather than jump to conclusions.