Ascribing Motives

A friend was just beginning to vent about a situation in her life, that I knew she had to get off her chest. She had invisible steam pouring out of her ears, and her brow was furrowed. “I know it’s because they think…” “Wait!” I interrupted. “Don’t ascribe motives”. Her face softened and she caught her words, because this friend of mine is also humble, and willing to hear the correction from a friend. She quickly apologized for her short rant.

Maybe I noticed where her heart was leading her because I’ve taken quite the tongue-lashing lately, for things I’ve said and done. Things that were coming from a place of love and care for neighbor, but the opposite motives were ascribed. The part that hurts worse is not that folks are offended at my choice of action. It’s that they’ve decided my motives for me. They’ve decided that, contrary to everything they actually know about me, or anything I was saying about why I behave like I do, I obviously must be a hateful, uncaring brute, since I don’t react the way they want me to.

It also hurts because these are folks I deeply care about, and I know their judgment of me is causing them harm, as well. I know that, when I have believed someone’s actions meant that they didn’t love me, it’s hurt far worse than if I had only disliked their actions. I’ve done this to my wonderful husband a million times over. I’ve translated insensitive, or ignorant behavior into “I don’t love you,” and all of the sudden, I wasn’t reacting to him, I was reacting to a perceived, invisible enemy which didn’t actually exist, and seemed to be wearing my husband’s face.

I’m also grieved because this whole thing about ascribing motives seems to be happening on a larger scale than ever before. I keep hearing the word “unity” recited like a refrain, launching from the highest political chambers, raining down like an order… but at a micro level, this is where it breaks down. No one can unify if everyone is the enemy.

For years, we’ve talked of tolerance, but in a deceitful way. Tolerance has meant “never disagreeing”. But tolerance, by definition, means we have to tolerate those we disagree with. Toleration requires differences. We must be willing to listen to those who think differently than we do… but we must, must, MUST do it without deciding what the other person’s motives are, even and especially when they say otherwise. If we want to have unity, we have to start giving one another the benefit of the doubt, and we have to honestly tolerate one another. We have to listen to one another. If someone reacts differently to the state of the world, we can humbly, graciously ask them “why”, instead of slamming their character and stuffing our fingers our ears when they try to tell us their reasoning. Or if we are going to make assumptions, we should assume the best in others… because maybe then WE will be able to love our neighbor. Because, honestly, it’s up to each of us to seek to love our neighbor, not for our neighbor to demand that we love them. If I am genuinely loving my neighbor, not only will I accept them for who they are and how they behave, but I will also be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, listen to what they say about their own motivation for their actions, and assume that they are also navigating hard times and simply doing the best that they can. That’s called showing one another grace. And grace makes the world go round!

Space 2/4/21

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