Circle of Inference diagram 467x350

“I’m Surrounded By A Bunch Of Idiots” [Circle of Inference] (part 2 of 3)

In my last post I wrote about how we generate our reactions to experiences. I was sharing about speaking in my church and afterward noting two people making what I assumed were disparaging comments about my message (and me). Let me pick up the story where my mind was running wild and I concluded that it was a mistake for me to have agreed to speak at church and that I’m such a loser.

What happened inside my head is a rapid sequence of “meaning making” where I took a little bit of “data” and interpreted it based on some previous data and interpretations. I connected some dots in a way that seemed to make sense. My emotions were triggered in the process. I ended up coming to some conclusions that would be the basis for my actions. I like to call this sequence the Circle of Inference (derived from the “Ladder of Inference” by Chris Argyris). We all do this sequence of steps all the time. It is the way we make sense of our world. It is the way our brains work. The biggest problem is how errors enter the process of our “meaning making” and set us up for making more and bigger misunderstandings in the future. Let me explain.

The Circle of Inference begins with “data”—which simply means the raw information of what happened. Data is what surveillance cameras and microphones would have captured if focused on the event. Any observer would agree on the data. It is simply the raw facts of what occurred in the situation.

The first step down the path of the Circle of Inference is the selection of data. We only notice some of what went on. We only saw or heard some of the data. There is always data that we don’t factor into our analysis. For whatever reason we just missed it or disregarded it as irrelevant.

The next step in the Circle of Inference is that we begin to assign some meaning to what we saw. When that guy was looking in my direction and rolled his eyes, I assigned meaning, based on past experiences, that he was talking in a disparaging way about me. In effect I was writing a story in my mind around those data points (those past experiences). The story fills in any gaps in meaning. I then make assumptions based on the meanings that I added—and often those assumptions are about a person’s motivations behind their actions. I assumed that he didn’t like me and I also assumed that many others must also share the same perspective as those two. My emotion of shame was beginning to take over my thoughts. But it doesn’t stop there.

The meaning and assumption steps are closely followed by drawing conclusions. In this case, I was not only drawing conclusions about those people but I was also concluding that I was a failure and that I was such an idiot for putting myself in that situation. I resolve to never make that mistake again—in this context or any other.

Those conclusions have led to beliefs I now hold. They tell me that I am not gifted in speaking and that contexts like this are not safe. I also believe that the wisest choice is to hide. I wish I could just walk out of church, but that carries its own set of shame messages, so I just try to make myself invisible and small.

Next post, we’ll unpack this a bit more and see how this process circles back on itself and sets me up for compounding errors in perception and understanding.


“I’m Surrounded By A Bunch Of Idiots” [Circle of Inference] (part 1 of 3)

I had to smile when I heard those words from my friend recently. I smiled because I recalled many times I had felt the same in the past. Now, if you know my family or coworkers, you know I’m privileged to be surrounded by a bunch of incredible people. I smiled because I recognize how easy it is for me to get stuck in a way of seeing those around me that negatively affects our shared effectiveness and our relational health. It seems that we all must face this powerful gravitational pull leading to misunderstandings. I’d like to share some insights that have been very helpful to me as I attempt to navigate interpersonal interactions. I’ll use a “partially fictional” scenario where I concluded that I was the idiot—so you can more easily see what I mean.

Let’s say one week after I spoke at my church (filling in for our pastor) I walk into the church auditorium before the service and happen to notice someone looking my direction from some distance away. Just as he sees me (as I perceive it), he rolls his eyes and appears to express disgust in his face while he says something I can’t hear to the person with whom he is conversing. I see the other person nod. I immediately assume they are talking about me.

My mind immediately goes back to various other interactions I’ve had with this individual. I remember that not long ago he disagreed with something I said in an open forum at church. I also remember hearing him making some strong statements about political issues to someone in the hallway a couple of weeks ago—and I noted how I saw things differently than he did.

So, when I walked into church and saw those two in that conversation, I concluded: “There must have been something that I said last week that they didn’t agree with or maybe they just thought I bombed and the sermon was a waste of their time. I wonder who else thinks that way.” I begin looking around to see how other people are looking at me. I feel self-conscious and I detect a growing tightness in my chest. I note that the only people who commented on my message were the sweet old grandmother types (who may not have really been tracking with what I was saying anyway). Maybe I should not have agreed to speak at church. I’m sure the leadership is embarrassed and regrets asking me to speak. I’m sure they’ll never ask me again. I’m such a loser.

What just happened there? I’ll pick that up in the next post …


Connecting the Dots about My Busyness

I really enjoy reading something that jogs my thinking and challenges my heart. This morning I picked up Daily Office by Peter Scazzero (a companion book to Emotionally Healthy Spirituality) and read John 7:3-8 where Jesus is getting pressure from his brothers to make himself known at the Feast of the Tabernacles. Jesus chooses to wait. Scazzero said, “Jesus moved slowly, not striving or rushing … He waited patiently for his Father’s time during his short ministry. Why is it then that we hate ‘slow’ when God appears to delight in it?”

For me, that is a great question! Those that know me would say that I get a LOT done. And quite frankly, I enjoy getting a lot done and I like to do it quickly. Hmmm …

Scazzero references Eugene Peterson to answer his question:

Why is it that we hate “slow” when God appears to delight in it?

  1. I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands of my time are proof to myself and to all who will notice, that I am important—so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.
  2. I am busy because I am lazy. I let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us.

As I was processing this, I think there is something deeper at work here. I believe that a third reason exists. I am busy because I am lonely. I fill my day with worthy causes so I don’t have to feel the pain of being alone. I’m more comfortable working alone than with others because I grew up in a context where work was valued over relationships. Standing and talking was not acceptable. Working and talking was somewhat better as long as it didn’t hinder the work. Working hard and putting all my concentration into the work was praised.

Yet, I know that we were created for relationship. Adam had his work but he still felt the pain of loneliness. So, God created a relational one for him.

Lord, help me search my heart. Make my head connect with my heart. Let my love for you praise YOU for the way I am made. Let me not seek busyness to “prove” myself. Instead let me embrace and rejoice in how you have knit me together. Let me not hide behind others, letting them do what YOU created me to do. Do not let my work fill the loneliness and replace relationships.

Lord, give me eyes to see and a heart to understand. Let me live more intentionally, connecting with you moment by moment throughout the day and hearing your heart and your love for everyone I meet.

sail boat

Compelled by Love

“For Christ’s love compels us.”  2 Corinthians 5:14

Can you imagine being compelled by love?

It has been a difficult thing for me to come to the realization recently that for the majority of my life, what mostly compelled me in my day-to-day living was fear and anxiety. For 45 years of my life, fear and anxiety were the primary drivers of most everything I did. It’s what got me out of bed; got me to work on time; made me clean up the house; maintain my car; mow my lawn. “What would people think of me if I did not do those things?” is what I would subconsciously think. The sad thing is I was totally unaware I was living in this state of being … I simply called it life.

I became a believer in Christ at age 18. Unfortunately, this had little or no impact on me living out of fear and anxiety. If anything, it added to it. As a matter of fact, I thought as a Christian I should always have a low level of fear and anxiety about something (myself, my kids falling away from God, going into a life of sin, etc.). My thinking was, it’s unspiritual to not be living in some type of fear. Contentment may lead me to complacency. What other type of EFFECTIVE motivation is there but fear?

However, this constant, low-level fear and anxiety have taken a toll on me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

But I missed it! For over 40 years of my walk with God … I missed it!!

  • “An anxious heart weighs a man down.” Proverbs 12:25
  • “Do not be anxious about anything.” Philippians 4:6
  • “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life.” Matthew 6:25
  • “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”Matthew 6:27
  • “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow.” Matthew 6:34
  • “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Luke 12:25

Living life primarily motivated by constant low-level fear and anxiety is not God’s intended plan. I have come to realize that LOVE is to be the primary motivator for the follower of Christ. Could you imagine? What gets us out of bed is LOVE? What gets us to work is LOVE? What gets me to mow my lawn is LOVE? What would have to happen in my heart for LOVE to replace fear as my primary motivator?

Something would have stir incredibly deeply in me, something that was more powerful than my fear. Can LOVE become more powerful than fear? When I actually look at how God interacted with many in the Bible, the answer is yes! LOVE in combination with a good measure of TRUST can overcome the greatest of fears. I can be motivated by love to trust, serve, follow, give, change—but I have to receive love from God, truly trust in his love, or it will never work.

Living life from a foundation of God’s unconditional love becomes a consistent, predictable motivator. His love is the only predictable aspect of my day.

Photo by Kathie Slusser

What’s Behind the Door?

I’ve been praying for a friend for the last 16 years. I’m praying for her salvation, for her to know the one who made her and loves her beyond measure and reason. She’s a dear friend of the family and several years ago she had a conversation with my dad about God and faith. She expressed curiosity and a longing to know if something more was out there, but she wasn’t convinced that it was actually worth pursuing; what would she find? My dad told her to just push on the door; if there’s a door in front of you, push on it and see what’s behind it. It can’t hurt to find out what’s behind the door. She has started hovering around the door a bit more lately, but is still tentative to actually press in. She and I had a recent conversation once again about faith and I reminded her of my dad’s words. I invited her to be brave because God can be trusted. “Just push on the door.”

In another conversation about two weeks later, I shared with a different friend about several decisions that I’ve been wrestling with. As we talked, I was surprised that when I slowed down to look at why I was having a tough time making some choices, there was fear underneath my indecision and immobility. Fear of failure and embarrassment, fear of being unproductive with my time, fear of being off track (okay, wrong) about what God actually wants. As we spoke I said, “I don’t often ask God very specific questions. I tend to be kind of vague and just say ‘Wonder what you’re up to God. I wonder what you think about this.’ I don’t ask him to actually show me things, to actually answer me.”

Standing outside my car door, my gentle friend smiled and said, “Because you’re afraid he won’t answer.” My eyes popped open wide and a grin fell across my face as I shook my head. Suddenly I saw it.

I, too, am afraid to push on the door. I, too, am afraid that he won’t be real enough, personal enough, invested enough, caring enough. The instincts in my heart that I can’t always see and name still influence how I see him. And I don’t always press in to find out that he is good and that he can be trusted, the very thing my heart most wants to know.

Friends who speak his truth, who remind me of who he really is and how he sees me, help me come back to his presence. And God himself never stops pursuing my heart. I have growing and learning to do, just like the precious friend for whom I pray. We both get a chance to push on the door and see more of who he is, how he loves, and what grace overcomes.

Hang'n by a moment

Hanging by a Moment

Desperate for changing

Starving for truth

I’m closer to where I started

Chasing after you

I’m falling even more in love with you

Letting go of all I’ve held onto

I’m standing here until you make me move

I’m hanging by a moment here with you



Hanging By A Moment, LIFEHOUSE

I love the lyrics of this song. It is usually in my most desperate and exposed moments that he is most real to me. This thought doesn’t necessarily bring me comfort like it should. Those who are desperate seem so … needy. I definitely don’t like the sound of that; however, I can’t deny that this is usually when God shows up in the most prolific and profound ways. To me, this goes against my instincts. A God of perfection who wants to connect with the desperate and needy? Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to associate himself with those who have their act together? I don’t think that I’m the only one with this instinct. Our churches are filled with people who know they are saved by grace, yet continue to feel an inexplicable pressure to perform religious acts. Even though I have not completely shed my natural instinct, I am convinced that it has led me astray on this matter. A quick review of many of the Old and New Testament characters also confirms this. Maybe, just maybe, being desperate is a good thing. In fact, maybe it’s just the plain and simple reality of my situation, which I can be so reluctant to admit. I am desperately needy and God is patiently waiting for me to “let go of all I’ve held on to.” The freedom of the Gospel is actuated when I kick my false instincts to the curb and cry out to God saying, “I’m hanging by a moment here with you.”