“I’m not sure”—is that compassionate?

How little we know_LisaNotes

I began to notice how seldom we ‘make place for the other’ in social interaction. . . . Western society is highly opinionated.”
– Karen Armstrong

Is there a connection between knowing you’re always right and being hard-hearted?

And its converse: between understanding you could be wrong and being compassionate?

I’m trying to figure it out. To see if it’s even true.

Because sometimes, from where I sit anyway, it seems to be true: that those who are most sure of their position are often the harshest ones. And those who accept their potential to be wrong are the ones more likely to give grace to others.

But I could be wrong. . . .

Jesus was certainly all-right AND all-love.

But are we humans kinder when we acknowledge that Jesus knows it all, but we don’t?

Working on it is the next step in my 2014 Year of Compassion. Karen Armstrong suggests these three exercises for step 7 in Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (for me, the month of July):

1. Appreciate the unknowable

Armstrong suggests participating daily in an experience that touches you deeply beyond words. For me, that’s usually worship. The more I see God all around me, the more amazed I am at his greatness and my smallness. The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know. It humbles me.

2. Become sensitive to overconfidence

You probably know someone in your life who knows everything. (And if not, listen to talk radio.) Do we try too hard to win arguments? Are we too reluctant to admit, “I don’t know”? Would we be wise to occasionally play devil’s advocate against our own views to uncover blind spots?

3. Notice the mystery of each person

Be mindful of the beautiful mystery of each person in your day. Think about what you specifically love about your partner or close friend. Ask yourself what makes you different from everyone else. Notice when you’re trying to change someone else, or when someone may be trying to change you, and how that makes you feel.

As God would have it, it’s no coincidence I’m also deep this month in Kathryn Schulz’s book, Being Wrong (it’s messing with me, I tell you). Even as we seek Truth, the allure of certainty will try to pull us the opposite direction of Love.

“Just as our love of being right is best understood as a fear of being wrong, our attraction to certainty is best understood as an aversion to uncertainty.”
– Kathryn Schulz

How little we know.

May we make peace with it so God can teach us more.

And may it open up space in us for more love, more grace, and more compassion.

* * *

Has being wrong ever taught you to be more compassionate? Who in your life is a compassionate person? I want to hear.

32 thoughts on ““I’m not sure”—is that compassionate?

  1. Amy Jung

    Being wrong could be the story of my life. As much as I hate being wrong or messing up, it has chipped away some harshness and pehaps given me more compassion for others who might be wrong or make mistakes. A problem that can arise when you’ve been wrong enough in life—you begin to question yourself too much based on your past! The fear of being confident! This sounds like a wonderful journey that you’re on–seeking compassion this year! I would love to learn more about this and will check this out myself. Thanks!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Being wrong has definitely helped refine me too, hopefully for the better. But yes, I see what you’re saying that it also can make use question ourselves too much. I do often wonder what I’m believing now that is “wrong” but I’m just too blind to see. I know those things are there and hopefully will be revealed sooner rather than later, however painful.

      It has definitely been an interesting year as God keeps weaving things into my life to give me opportunities to practice compassion. It’s not been easy. ha. The book is a good read with lots of recommendations to go forward with Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion. She has a great TED talk about it.


  2. Linda@Creekside

    Yes, Lisa, the pull toward worship and gratitude seems stronger than ever in this season for me. Maybe it’s because His faithfulness is so obvious and steady and bountiful.

    This is so thought-provoking here … and it’s good to be back for a visit after a bit of a blog break!


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Glad you’re back, Linda!

      I was at a WONDERFUL service last where the worship of and presence of God was so powerful. I love when we have such strong reminders that God IS faithful and so worthy of our praise. It feeds my soul.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I need reminders often of humility myself. Pride trips me up constantly….you’d think I’d have learned by now, but the self always rises again….Thankful for grace and always another opportunity to begin again.

  3. Jean Wise

    I reread this post twice for all its wisdom. In the first statement I kept thinking mystery so was so glad to see it in the third one. The longer I am on this spiritual journey the more I honor and value mystery and just not knowing and letting go of having to know. Now if I could just let go of controlling too. LOL

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love that we’re so often on the same page, Jean. Two contemplatives for sure. 🙂 I’d love to sit with you over a Krispy Kreme doughnut and swap experiences. Valuing mystery is something I enjoy doing more and more too the further along I go on this spiritual journey.

  4. Kristin Hill Taylor

    Oh, Lisa. There’s so much truth here. I sure like to be right, but being wrong can be oh-so humbling. I do think the more we seek God, the softer our hearts become, meaning we can recognize that others could be right. Too often I want to argue (even inside my head or to my husband …) rather than humble myself. Convicting yet encouraging post here.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’s so hard to fight against that urge to argue, especially when we think we’re right and want to get the truth out there. 🙂 But even when I do happen to be right (it does happen now and again, ha), my attitude about it isn’t always right. It is humbling indeed to see that. I’m grateful for God’s grace to show it to us in the doses we can handle. Thanks for stopping by, Kristin.

  5. bluecottonmemory

    I am learning that I have to make room for people to grow in their understanding of God – that I have to allow them where they are – because that’s the starting place for truth. Yes – the more I don’t know, the more compassionate I am. However, I wish that people with totally opposite beliefs could have discussions without condescension! I hate being wrong – but I also recognize that it is a place I can often be found! I can understand how that topic would mess with one’s mind! Hoping you find peace in the message!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, I hear you loud and clear. Making room for others to be where they are–as I want them to allow the same for me–is a lesson I continue to learn, deeper and deeper. My hardest lesson so far is being more tolerant of the intolerant. Ironic.

  6. Sharon

    Yes, Lisa, I do think the willingness to be wrong, or to at least accept the possibility, is a compassionate thing. For it does involve humility, and the willingness to extend grace to another person. In my experience, people who always think they’re right are often quite judgmental. I can’t do that. I’ve made far too many mistakes to point fingers at anyone else.

    Jesus’ righteousness is the only *right* that legitimately stands – and yet, He was so very highly compassionate. Not lording his *rightness* over people, but always extending grace to the person first. A good example.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Owning up to our own mistakes is such a giant leap to becoming more compassionate people–you’re so right, Sharon. I’ve made my fair share of messes; I don’t need to judge others for their share. We’re all in this together to find God and Love. Be the first to extend grace–yes, Jesus did that, and we’re to follow his example with our own circles of friends.

  7. Betty

    Thanks for visiting my blog and your kind comment about Koda 🙂

    This sounds like an interesting study on being compassionate. I had a problem a few years ago about wanting to be right, having trouble admitting I was wrong about something, trying to defend my position, right or wrong. I worked on admitting right up front I was wrong and ask for forgiveness if I had hurt someone (often had of course). I like to think I’m more compassionate than I was in the past, before I might have judged someone, now I try to adopt the attitude “they are doing the best with what they have to work with.” I think I’ll always be a work in progress though. Very interesting thoughts to ponder though.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, Betty, we are all still works in progress. And I do love when we can see some of that progress! You have a great attitude of giving the benefit of the doubt to others; most all of us are attempting to do the best we can with what we know now, and when we know better, we’ll do better (I think Maya Angelou said something like that too….). Thanks for sharing your wisdom here.

  8. David

    Dear Lisa

    Lovely post (and comments)!

    I used to be very fierce and fighty with ideas. Not any more. I’d much rather listen. When someone is speaking sincerely there’s often some truth in what they say, and I’d rather find and embrace that than punish. One danger is that I become intellectually passive or lazy. For that I think I just have to stay curious and challenge myself.

    Thank you for your posts. This blog and DoNotDepart are really wonderful for me.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I suppose in the circle of life, we hit our most arrogant phase when we’re teenagers, then ideally we begin to discover that we don’t know everything after all, and we make room to learn more again. It’s just that not everybody does that. 🙁 So I’m always refreshed when I come across people who truly do want to listen–and even better–“find and embrace.” Beautifully said, David.

      I’m so glad you are encouraged here and at Do Not Depart. I am encouraged at how you make me think more with your questions and insights. Actually it was your question about John 15:7 that started me thinking of this post in the first place. Admitting we can’t always explain what a verse means is liberating and authentic for those of us who’ve grown up with ready answers that only half satisfy. Faith is believing God is good even when I don’t understand.

  9. ~ linda

    “Notice the mystery of each person.” I love this one. Far too often, I am busy thinking about what I should say next or do and miss all that the person is communicating to me. I get caught up in the fact that they “must be wrong” and then I hear nothing but my own inner chatter, preparing my “speech!” Yaaaaaaaaaahhhh! Hello! : /
    This is a good awakening post for me, Lisa. Glad I came by from SDG.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think we all fall prey to that, Linda, much more than we’re even aware of. 🙁 I know it’s true for me to concentrate more on what *I* want to say next, sometimes so much that I miss what the person is saying in the moment. That can be embarrassing, not to mention rude and unloving. Thanks for visiting today, friend.

  10. Dionne

    I was just talking to my husband about aspects of your post…where you mention us being aware of someone trying to change us or us trying to change them…I can count numerous times I have done that to someone! It drives me crazy we people put me in a box because they think they know things about me based on appearance or one comment-so frustrating. We need to let people be mysterious as you said-We really do need to let go of always knowing, let go of that insecurity! Thank you for shedding light on a hard subject. Convicting in a very graceful way! I so appreciate it though!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’ve been there too–both on the “trying to be changed” side and the “trying to change others” side. Neither is pleasant. 🙁 It’s so hard for us to release the certainty that we know what is best for a person (including ourselves) instead of acknowledging that maybe we do NOT know everything after all. Leave room for mystery; leave room for God. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dionne.

  11. Dawn

    This is awesome, Lisa. I want to shout.. “YOU ARE SO RIGHT”, because it is here, in the place of compassion, that we realize that many times we are so wrong about too many things. To acknowledge the way that an all-knowing God who came to redeem also met people right where they were and loved them in all their quirks needs to be the anthem we sing if we are following His path. A recent conversation about politics and being able to befriend someone who didn’t agree with a friend shocked me, though it shouldn’t have. What strikes me is that often in the Body of Christ, we are not much different and that makes me sad. I am going to look into this book you mentioned, it sounds wonderful.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, God indeed sets the example for meeting people right where they are and using them anyway–even when they aren’t in total agreement with him. Why do we think it should be otherwise with us? We tend to pick out a few select issues to decide if we’re “alike” or not, and if we’re not, we slap on a label and move on. Thankful that God doesn’t do that with us! It is an enlightening book, and one that is meant to prompt action, which I particularly appreciate.

  12. Jen Ferguson

    I think parenthood taught me the most about how wrong all my preconceived notions could be. And I think my own insecurities have made me hold on more tightly to being right than to grace. In recognizing my own inabilities and flaws, I am much more willing to embrace other’s inabilities and flaws.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ooh, good point, Jen. Parenting definitely proves over and over that we can be and often are wrong. And also how dependent we are upon God’s grace not only for our own souls, but also for the little lives following behind us.

  13. Amber @ Beautiful Rubbish

    I love this, Lisa. I have learned much about humility through being wrong or admitting to not knowing, and I can’t help but think humility and compassion go hand in hand. One of the biggest, most liberating and unnerving things I’ve learned in this last decade of faith is how to let go of too much confidence in answers, the flexibility to grow and change and take a different shape, or refine the one I have. That it all really boils down to one answer: Jesus. Thank you for this thought-provoking reflection. Joining from Unforced Rhythms.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love how you think, Amber. We could have some great sit-down spiritual conversations for hours, I can tell.

      It’s been so liberating to me as well to realize I don’t have to know all the right answers as long as I’m looking to Jesus. He IS the right answer.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Lyli. I relate to # 2 as well. However, being sensitive to overconfidence in others is much easier for me than detecting it in myself. ha. So that’s what I need to work on for sure.

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