Having been living in different places is challenging. But it is one of the experiences I treasure dearly to my heart. I get to know different people, learn their cultures, and start building relationships with them.
However, as I get along with the people and the cultures, I realize that my first impression of a place, people, and the surroundings often has a lot to do with the assumptions by which I use to see those whom I call as my neighbors. In my case, my first impression sadly is not a good one.
Being a foreigner in a new place, I find myself being unfair in seeing the locals. When I say unfair, it means that I judge easily with the lack of understanding of the people. This judgment often is irrational. Little did I know that this happens because I am poor in making the right judgement -so to speak, upon others. It takes me a while to finally learn that this has a lot to do with the ability to discern.
I once spotted an interesting quote on twitter by Jackie Hill Perry, which sounds pretty much like this, people call discernment as the ability to see others’ shortcomings and failures, that this is not discernment. It is just being critical. This notion implies a profound idea. We often misinterpret the word discernment as an ability to really spot the negative attributes of others but not the positive ones.
Cambridge online dictionary defines discernment as the ability to judge people and things well. Notice that this definition includes the degree “well” which I believe has a lot to do with how fair we are in our judgement.
Therefore, as a foreigner living in a new place, I notice how important discernment is. Down below I write four lessons in dealing with my assumptions as I learn to discern, and eventually make a fair judgement upon others, especially living in a place I have nothing to know about.
Discerning means seeing both good and bad ones
I often hear religious people talking a lot about discernment. This idea seems to be a virtue that religious people embrace. When it comes to discernment, the idea of sin is often discussed. Discernment sometimes is associated with the ability to spot sins. Yet, people often stop there. They fail to realize that it is not simply about spotting others people’s sins but also in coupled with their potentials, talents, and gifts. Therefore, before making any judgements, I learn to discern by seeing good potentials from the people I interact with.
Our thoughts are wild, “guard” them!
Living in different places has also been teaching me to really guard my thoughts. I realize there is something that goes wrong with me every time unfair thoughts appear. This seems to be evident every time I am treated unfairly. Despite how bad others -at least in my own subjective perspective, I should have not judged them inside my mind and my heart. I might not show how inconvenient I am, but my mind has been unfairly treating others whom I have just known.
A famous Indonesian writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer once said that we ought to be fair in our thoughts, let alone in our actions. In other words, although I might not be fair practically, my mind has been practicing unfairness. When we are not aware of our thoughts, what is used to be an idea, later will be translated to daily practices. Therefore, it is really important to practice discernment. Be quick to identify our assumptions, discern well, and eventually make a fair judgement.
Involve others in discerning process
I once had a conversation with a colleague about this matter (Since I felt it was really disturbing). The conversation eventually brings clarity to me. She helps me by challenging my assumptions. It was a life-changing lesson for me. That “disturbance” is actually a good sign for me. It is like an alarm reminding me to discern by making a fair judgement. In order to make fair judgement, it is necessary for me to include others (the locals would be excellent) in our discerning processes.
Discerning takes your time
I know for some people, the idea of “taking/consuming our time” might sound boring. People look for instant processes. However, learning to discern indeed takes your time if you are willing to be discipline practicing that.
I love the idea of taking time to discern. Greg McKeown in his famous book called Essentialism, says that discerning takes our time because it is essential. In order to discern well, we may spend time exploring, listening, questioning, debating, and thinking. Notice that those activities are internal processes. We might get tempted to make decisions immediately, but it is unwise to skip the discerning process only to make decisions instantly. It is way better to discern well than to make a quick judgment.
Discerning takes time but it is worth the process. You will realize that during the process, your assumptions are challenged. Eventually, you’ll see you are making fair judgement. By doing so, we are gradually lessening the possibility to make a wrong interpretation towards others.
Making a fair judgment has been the most valuable lesson I have learned so far. I learn that through the discerning process. By consistently doing that, I start seeing people differently. They do not change since they are culturally nurtured different than me. However, the way I see them changes only by discerning well.