Not Like You

I’ve just started reading the book, Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan. Very thought-provoking so far, and I’ve only finished the Introduction and first chapter.

Heffernan begins by pointing out how all human beings flock with people like ourselves. We self-select into similar groups, choosing employees, neighbors, friends, and churches who generally look like us, act like us, and think like us. (In church-growth literature, this is known as the homogeneous unit principle.)

It’s a natural phenomenon, but it can be dangerous: at best, a deterrent to personal growth; at worst, the foundation for disaster when we become so comfortable that we fail to question dangerous assumptions that have become part of our group’s culture. (Think Bernie Madoff, Enron, Penn State football.)

In fact, in what is called the “group polarization effect,” Heffernan explains, “when groups of like-minded people get together, they make each other’s views more extreme.”

Rather than broadening their attitudes, the very process of discussion renders them blind to alternatives. We stop looking at places or jobs or information or people that will prove too uncomfortable, too tumultuous for our closely held beliefs. We may think we want to be challenged, but we really don’t.

Heffernan continues, “Living, working, and making decisions with people like ourselves brings us comfort and efficiencies, but it also makes us far narrower in how we think and what we see.”

Jesus made a practice of going against the status quo, of hanging out with people very different from those who would have been expected in his day. As followers of Jesus, we are commanded to go into all the world and make disciples. That means we need to move out of our comfort zone and spend time with people who are not like us.

This can feel uncomfortable or even downright scary. Those people are different! I might not fit in! They might challenge my views! They may not understand where I’m coming from! I may not approve of their values and choices!

You’re absolutely right. Which is exactly why you need to spend more time with them, expanding your perspective, seeing the image of God in others, and letting the Holy Spirit challenge your mind and heart. When is the last time you spent time with people not like you: through your reading, at a bar, in a different neighborhood, at a congregant’s workplace?

And on Sunday morning?

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2 thoughts on “Not Like You

  1. Hayley Frandsen says:

    God put me at Ben Davis in Wayne Township where over 70 languages are spoken. I can’t tell you how much I love the diversity. At first, I was worried about it, but now I embrace it. I have students in my classes from all over the world.
    Last year, I had a student who spoke English as a second language and who called me “Sister” every day. I’m not sure why. He worked so hard in school.
    This year I have a student from Nigeria who thinks education in the U.S. would be more successful if teachers whooped students (in his words). My students from other countries make our class discussions richer.

    I have over 15 students this year who speak English as a second language.

    I can see why God made us all so different. It’s much more interesting.

  2. Steve says:

    Angie, this is a great book that really challenges some of our most basic assumptions. I’m using it as a key text for understanding how organizations are “blinded” by their own actions. You will enjoy it!

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