It’s become increasingly evident that often, people we think we know – we really don’t know at all.
Case in point: The two brothers of Chechen descent that allegedly orchestrated the Boston Marathon bombings and had plotted further mayhem. Some neighbors and fellow students described them with adjectives like “quiet,” “nice,” “friendly” and even “kind.” Huh? Hardly terms that fit makers of pressure-cooker bombs that killed and dismembered people near the finish of one of New England’s most celebrated events.
But such a disparity isn’t unusual. Mass murderers are frequently depicted as aloof, introverted, or maybe moody, but rarely does anyone say something like, “Now there was a potential serial killer if ever I saw one!”
People being not always as they seem isn’t restricted to perpetrators of heinous crimes. Recently a single day’s news included multiple reports of prominent entertainers and media celebrities being arrested for alcohol and drug-related violations. Including a popular, perky actress who never would have been envisioned as a mean drunk.
And it doesn’t stop there. What about the revered preacher, author of best-selling books and star of weekly TV and radio shows, caught in secretive, sexual indiscretions? Or the iconic business executive found guilty of ethical wrongdoing? Even the “perfect couple” living next door, whom everyone envied, that shockingly filed for divorce?
We think we know people, but do we…really? What’s the deal?
The Bible offers insight. In the Old Testament, God had sent the prophet Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to succeed Saul as Israel’s king. Samuel studied each son and wondered, “Is this the one?” Apparently they all passed the look test. But for each one the Lord responded, “Nope. Not him.”
Finally, Samuel discovered Jesse had one more son – David, a shepherd boy still tending the sheep. So Samuel had Jesse summon David. When the boy arrived, God informed the prophet, “That’s the one!”
Earlier Samuel had received the explanation: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
That’s our problem. We can only look on the outside, drawing conclusions based on perceptions. God, however, examines the heart – the inner person. He knows their true thoughts, motives, desires and aspirations.
In Leaders Legacy, the non-profit I work with, we use a motivational assessment tool called the Birkman Method. A key descriptor of this resource is “Usual Style” or “Usual Behavior.” This relates to outward behavior – what we observe about other people, the basis for conclusions and judgments we form about them.
However, “Usual Style” is actually learned behavior, what individuals find enables them to be most effective in life. This often contrasts sharply from “Needs” – underlying requirements or expectations that must be fulfilled to bring contentment and peace.
Realizing what you see in people isn’t always what you get, I’ve given up trying to be a good judge of people. Their external behavior can be very deceiving. God alone is capable of judging properly and accurately, because He can see what’s going on inside. As Proverbs 21:2 says, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com.)