Here are some examples of simplistic either/or thinking that doesn’t account for the complexity of the situations at hand…

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The well known writer Steven Covey gives the following story. One time he was on a train with a man whose children were completely out of control. The children were disturbing passengers, running up and down the aisle, pulling papers from passengers’ bags, and wreaking havoc. Covey was disgusted that this man wouldn’t lift a finger to take control of the situation or to discipline his children. He made some quick judgments: this man lacked personal accountability; he didn’t accept responsibility for his children’s behavior.

Finally Covey said to the man, “Your children are out of control. They’re bothering me and other passengers. Can you please take control of the situation?” The man replied, “They just came back from the hospital where we learned their mother died. She didn’t make it through surgery. The rug has been pulled out from under us.” He sighed… “That’s why they’re acting out. But, I know you’re right. I need to rein them in.” This man’s response disarmed Covey and completely shifted his perspective. He no longer responded to the situation with annoyance and anger, but with sympathy and compassion. His perception was instantly transformed.

Here’s another story about a basketball star. The star and a reporter were walking along a Chicago street when a homeless woman asked for some money. The reporter mechanically put his right hand into his pocket to pull out some change. Then the star stopped the reporter’s hand and said, “Don’t do that.” He continued, “If the beggar can ask “spare change please” she can also say, “Welcome to McDonald’s. May I please take your order?”

The star’s turn of phrase about McDonald’s is clever but it’s too quick. It is also dismissive of the complexities of homelessness. The star’s response doesn’t account for the fact that according to a group called Access (a campaign for mental health care) about forty percent of homeless people are mentally ill. In other words, there could be many reasons the person was homeless and begging, not just apathy or a lack of initiative. Mentally ill people can’t hold a job at McDonald’s or anywhere else until they get treated.

It’s easier on our minds to make quick judgments. Then we’re spared having to wrestle with complex issues of homelessness. It makes dealing with the homeless easier.

We so easily jump to conclusions about people’s character, especially when tragedy strikes. Sometimes our worst assumptions are correct. Sometimes people make terrible choices that have tragic consequences. But things aren’t always as they seem and I’ve found my assumptions are often wrong.

Like the basketball star, we make quick judgments and assume we’re right, when all the while there are gaps in our understanding.


David Frenette’s book The Path of Centering Prayer reenergized the Centering Prayer tradition with its fresh insights and teachings.  Centering Prayer Meditations: Effortless Contemplation to Deepen Your Experience of God is a wonderful companion audio program  created to be equally rewarding as a stand-alone guide – gives listeners an immersive resource to learn contemplative prayer, step by step and in the moment. With clarity and compassionate presence, Frenette explains the essential principles of this contemplative practice for both new and seasoned practitioners, and then guides us experientially through core prayers and meditations.