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How well do we humans understand one another?  

Apparently, not very well.  In his excellent book How to Know A Person David Brooks cites the research of William Ickes that strangers accurately read each other “only about 20 percent of the time and close friends and family members do so only 35 percent of the  time.”  And a real problem is  “that people who are terrible at reading others think they are just as good as those who are pretty accurate.”

Which motivates Brooks to say we all need to learn social skills in order to be better at relationships and to lead a good life.  Note: we are currently discussing parts of Brooks’s book and these vital skills in our Wednesday night program.

These sobering statistics about our human limitations put me in mind of the recently deceased Nobel-prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman.  His 2011 bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow is an eye-opening discussion of the limitations of the human brain and our consistent failures at thinking.  I really encourage everyone to read it, especially if you want to better understand humanity and how your own brain works.

A key idea of his: “The voice of reason may be much fainter than the loud and clear voice of an erroneous intuition, and questioning your intuitions is unpleasant when you face the stress of a big decision.  More doubt is the last thing you want when you are in trouble.”  But it’s probably what you need, and so you should slow down your decision-making process and interrogate it.

Much of the book is about the biases that are wired into the brain and how it works.  Of which he concludes, “What can be done about biases?  How can we improve judgments and decisions, both our own and those of the institutions that we serve and that serve us?  The short answer is that little can be achieved without a considerable investment of effort.”  He states simply that the part of our brain wired to make snap decisions is “not readily educable.”  Of his own efforts, he writes, “I have improved only in my ability to recognize situations in which errors are likely. . .  And I have made much more progress in recognizing the errors of others than my own.”

So, reading stuff like this, I’m so happy that we believe in grace!

All of us should work even more diligently to practice the virtue of intellectual humility.  And, let’s cultivate the social skills that Brooks advises in order to help us better understand one another.

But at the same time, we should give ourselves and folks we encounter a lot of grace.  Maybe grace should become our default mode of operating?  Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus has been saying all along.


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First Central Congregational Church