Two people listened to a story. Both people heard the exact same information from beginning to end. But when these two people were tasked with sharing the story with others, many of the details became changed. As a result, both those retelling the story came to different conclusions on what they perceived was said. As a result, the story passed on to others was different from the original, not in major detail, but as this story is retold many times, these little differences add up to the story becoming completely different from the original.
How does that happen?
There is a well-known game called Chinese whispers. You can have 10 people in a line. You would whisper a short story into the ear of the first and they would whisper it on to the next person in the line and by the time they got to the end of the line, the story can be completely different and bear little or no resemblance to the original story.
Why does this happen?
Each of us at the time we hear a story are the sum total of all we have learnt throughout our lives in conversations, education, reading and our desires, both fulfilled and unfulfilled. This sets us up to be biased in what we take from a story or something we witness. Not intentionally, but because we have become accustomed to doing this rather than becoming overloaded with a constant barrage of information. However, this does mean that we have to make an effort to examine something from another perspective, especially when it goes against what we are accustomed to.
When the police take a statement about an accident or other event from witnesses, the different statements can vary wildly in their description of what happened. This is because the witnesses will have a different perspective on what they saw depending on where they were standing, what they were doing and even what was on their mind at the time. Each person is certain in their own mind as to what they saw. One person can be positive the person involved was wearing a blue shirt and jeans and another just as certain that they were wearing red trousers and a hoodie.
When we hear something or see something, we do not always process all the information we receive, but we mentally take cliff notes. We hear or see something that we recognise, and it is that that we tend to focus on. It is not a deliberate act but focusing on the familiar is easier mentally than processing new information. To learn something new we have to focus on the information and realise it may well differ from what we are used to hearing or seeing. To learn we must apply ourselves, in other words, make an effort to examine all the information and not just what we already know and is familiar. This applies to everything from learning a new language to studying Scripture, learning to use a new machine via a manual to learning to cook and become a chef.
We come across new information every day, but we only take in a small amount of the information we are faced with, if something does not pique our interest or is unfamiliar, we usually just let it pass by us. This is why law enforcement officers and agents of government organizations are trained in observation and how to keep this constant slew of new information available to repeat back and use at a later date.
If this practice of retaining without bias all the information we absorb were natural and easy to all, it would not have to be taught to people as a special tactic that must be honed over time.
For the rest of us we must realise that we are not infallible in our understanding of what we hear, see and understand because of this taking in the bits of information that grab our attention. This does not mean we do not want to learn something new or believe that we are only hearing what we want, but we always automatically focus on the familiar. When something comes along that challenges the familiar, we have a tendency, all of us, to try and justify our position because we do not like to be wrong.
Is this pride or fear?
Being wrong because our conventional views are challenged can make us uncomfortable, and as a result, we more often than not, will reject out of hand what is making us uncomfortable or challenging a long-held belief system. This is true of every aspect of our lives. When we are driving a car and we are obeying the law as taught in the highway code and somebody else doesn’t, we have a reaction. They are not doing things the way we were taught they should be done, as a result it instantly gets our “back up”. Even if what they do does not directly affect us, we have our own thoughts on the matter which we will often verbalise or let the horn speak for us.
When it comes to scripture and what it says we have two views we must consider. Today when we examine scripture, we do it through the eyes of someone brought up from a western gentile perspective. We do it through the lens of our Greek mindset and culture giving us a preconceived perspective on how we view things. As a result, we pick out the parts when learning that fit in with our worldview.
The other is the Judaic view. When the first Jewish believers heard the gospel message it was not new to them or different. It was a familiar message that tied in with the worldview they had been brought up in.
Understanding that any perspective is based on our upbringing, culture and social expectations providing us with a mindset that may differ from others will help us become aware of the need to study all the information we receive to come to a correct conclusion. A child brought up in a home that is rampantly anti-Semitic and aryan in its views will congregate with other like-minded people as they grow. This is the worldview that shapes their opinions and what they take from a conversation or something they see. However, a child brought up in a home that has a love for the Jewish people will conversely congregate with others of like mind.
Society is complex and has many subsets of views based on the network of friends, education and bias of teachers, especially our universities. This reveals the importance of recognising the different views people have when approaching a topic and what they may take from the information given. There is a cult in India that do not believe in fear. They will not use the breaks on their vehicle when driving and weave madly in and out of the traffic until they reach their destination or crash. To us that seems like lunacy, but to him brought up in that cultural belief it is normal practice. He may even believe that it is everyone else that is wrong.
Again, we are all a product of our upbringing and the worldview we have had instilled in us. When we come to Yeshua Messiah, we are to renew our minds, in other words, change our perspective from what we have been taught by our society and worldview to come in line with what scripture declares is correct. The problem is, when we examine from a western perspective, we inherently take from the writings what is familiar. Doing this gives a completely different perspective from those who approach with a Judaic perspective. They take from scripture what is familiar from their worldview.
It is important to remember that the scriptures were given to the Jews by a God who created the Jewish nation and called them His people. He gave the commandments, righteous lifestyle and desire for holiness to these people. As western Christians it is important to understand that we are grafted into people that has been created to worship Adonai.
This does not mean we are to observe rabbinic Judaism or become Jewish as gentiles. But we must come to understand the faith of the people Adonai created and moulded to bring the gospel message to the rest of the world. A very Jewish message with a Jewish Messiah that we are grafted into.
Dr M Debono-De-Laurnetis
'Though born in England, the author was brought up in Brooklyn NY within the Jewish community as his step-father was Jewish.