Danger: How a Past Distorts Our View of Others in the Present

Sometimes I feel like my past perceptions of others taint my present view of them. Regardless of personal or spiritual change, it is like I have locked them into a past that is no longer really the present.

Let me offer you a recent example. LeBron James.

Photo courtesy of marcolm | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo courtesy of marcolm | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On July 8, 2010, ESPN aired a special named The Decision where LeBron announced to the world that starting in the 2010-2011 season he would play with the Miami Heat instead of the Cleveland Cavaliers . I remember that night and was appalled that an athlete commanded 75 minutes of a specially-aired program to tell the world that he was not going to renew his contract with the same team.

Seriously? This “Decision” was so important as to not just make the news, but be the news?

I remember having my own “program” called The Response where I lamented to others how arrogant it was of LeBron to think his changing teams was that noteworthy. Here you had an athlete that was embraced by his home state of Ohio now leaving to partner up with superstars Dwyane and Chris Bosh so he could have his “championship in a box.”

And so my days of “LeBron scowling” began. Here you have a guy drafted by the team of the city in which he grew up, taking care of him, his fans love him, and he disses the Cav’s so he can get his championship.

LeBron became for me the poster child of all that I detested in professional sports. And so I became the fan of any team Lebron played against in his four straight years of playing for the NBA championship with the Heat.

And then in July of 2014 LeBron announced that he was desiring to return to his hometown of Akron, Ohio to play with the Cavs once again, the same team that booed him for leaving and burned his Cleveland Cavalier jersey.

And as I read LeBron’s I’m Coming Home interview with Lee Jenkins, I sensed some humility and gratitude from LeBron that I did not see in The Decision – Part 1. In The Decision – Part 2, I saw a different side to LeBron, a more down-to-earth, a more gracious, a more appreciative side.

To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?

I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.

I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.

My response was “yeah, that was noble of LeBron to come home, but we’ll see how long that lasts.”

And as I watched LeBron over this past season, I saw a guy who mentored his teammates. He played level-headed. He kept his emotions in check. He spoke differently to the media. He was just somehow…changed. And now playing in his fifth consecutive championship, he is exhibiting patience with his team and a mature leadership style.

And with starters Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sidelined due to injuries, LeBron has put the team on his back and has, with character, led the Cav’s to a chance at a championship in Cleveland.

That was a lengthy intro, but I have a relevant point.

Perceptions based on what is reality

Because of what LeBron did in 2010, my perception of him has stayed the same despite the fact that he has changed.

I want you to read that statement again – because of what LeBron did in 2010, my perception of him has stayed the same despite the fact that he has changed.

And so I found myself rooting for the Golden State Warriors, not just because I am from the Bay Area, but as much wanting to just see LeBron lose.

And in a conversation with a friend, that friend reminded me that my views of the “arrogant LeBron” were being projected onto a LeBron who, quite frankly, has really modeled some admirable leadership traits as of late.

And I had to pose the following question to myself – if I am going to have a view of another, it better be a view based on current reality and not some former reality.

It’s like trying to drive forward by seeing what is behind you as you look in your side or rear view mirror.

And when I was jokingly confronted by this friend, it did cause me to pause and reflect if I do this to others in my sphere of influence. Meaning, do I hold a lesser view of someone because of past behavior not asking or noting if that person has changed?

Do I need updated perceptions in my own life?

My view of the past can hold me back in growing others

This has become a thought process that has somewhat startled me because, as a leader, my goal should be focused on moving those around me to their next growth point. But the fact of the matter is that I will hold them back if my first thought of them is what I have experienced in the past, with no consideration of their own personal growth into the present.

Meaning, like LeBron, I can cry out with “arrogant and boastful” today when the truth is the LeBron of 2010 is not like the LeBron of 2015. And it is unfair to hold him to his past when he has changed in what used to be criticisms of him.

Is that how I want people dealing with me? I sure hope I have grown in the past five years and that some of my past hangups have been left just there…in the past.

The Gospel frees me to deal in truth

Similarly, it is not just or right for me to be a leader with negative thoughts towards another when that person may have changed, grown, or been transformed in their own life. Because my continued thoughts of “that person will never change” may be the very roadblock that keeps a person in their current status instead of affording them an opportunity to move past a former failure.

I read this quote and was not able to track its source, as many are using it, but it says this:

The gospel is not only the means by which people are saved, but also the truth and power by which people are sanctified; it is the truth of the Gospel that enables us to genuinely and joyfully do what is pleasing to God and to grow in progressive conformity to the image of Christ.

The Gospel affords me the opportunity to view people as they are now, not condemn them to what I have seen in the past. To move a person through their next growth point, to motivate and inspire to a vision, to influence rightly necessitates viewing others through a lens of current reality and not a lens of past perception.

I never want to be that chain that keeps another from moving forward, from growing, from thriving.

And so congratulations on a memorable season, LeBron, in more ways than just winning. You have taught me a valuable lesson.

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