How Curiosity Can Make you Less Defensive

Defensiveness. We’ve all been guilty. Someone in our family says something that hurts us and we say something back to retaliate. A person at work makes a comment about us and we internally stiffen up. Someone in our church questions a decision we made as a leader and we react and defend our position. It’s easy to let defensiveness drain us and make a situation worse. Recently, however, I learned a helpful new tool that can help dampen defensiveness. It’s called curiosity.

Asian Businessman are fighting by kung fu

In an interesting doctoral research project at the University of Rochester, NY, 142 students participated in a one day laboratory session. They were led to believe that a peer had rejected them and then they wrote for seven minutes. Each participant wrote under one of three conditions

  • Suppression: they were asked to suppress their feelings and write on neutral events of their day.
  • Expression: they were simply asked to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • Interest-taking (curiosity): they were asked to express their feelings and be curious about their feelings as they wrote.

Immediately after they wrote, the researcher measured their emotions, specifically anger, their positive feelings toward others (called prosocial affect), and how they internalized rejection. Next they listened to taped speeches from the peer who rejected them and from a neural person. Finally, they rated their like-ability and intelligence.

As you might expect, all three groups rated the rejecter negatively. And those in the suppression and expression group rated the neutral person negatively as well. However, the research yielded this surprise. Those in the interest-taking group rated the neutral person more positively.

What happened? Those in the first two groups displaced some of their hurt from the rejecter onto the neutral party. Those in the curiosity group did not. And at the end of the research session, the curious group reported less anger and less feelings of rejection and more positive feelings toward others (prosocial affect). Curiosity apparently dampens the fight-flight centers of our brain.

As a practical parallel, think of a guy who has a really bad day at work and, for no fault of their own, yells at his kids when he gets home. He’s displacing his anger onto them.

So what are some lessons we can learn from curiosity and its effects on defensiveness?

  1. When someone says something to us in anger, rejects us, confronts us, etc. and we feel tempted to defensively respond, take a curious posture.
  2. Rather than suppressing your feelings or thoughtlessly expressing them, stay curious.
  3. Ask yourself what might have prompted the person to do or say what he or she did (i.e., Did he have a bad day at work?). The situation might also lend itself to your asking the other person non-judgmental, open ended questions.
  4. Be curious about your own thoughts and emotions.
  5. Remind yourself that that the initial anxiety, fear, or worry that another’s behavior may trigger in you, will pass. Those emotions are not you, but passing mental and emotional events. Remind yourself that you don’t have to act on the feeling.
  6. Keep a curious mindset not only in these difficult situations, but also about the good around you (see Philippians 4.8).

Unfortunately, curiosity may have gotten a bad rap in the past (i.e., curiosity killed the cat). Yet, when we apply it to sticky situations ripe for defensiveness, it can serve us well.

The writer of Proverbs gives us wise counsel in this verse.

A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. (Prov 15.1, The Message)

What has helped you become less defensive?

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Source: Weinstein, N. (2010) Interest-taking and carry-over effects of incidental rejection emotions. Doctoral dissertation, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY.

Five Reasons I’m Starting to Read a Paper Bible Again

I’m a self admitted geek. I love tech stuff. My dad was an electrical engineer and our basement was filled with all kinds of gadgets. When I was a kid I spent hours playing with his tools and gadgets. And as we entered the computer age, I became one of the first among my friends to embrace that technology. I was an early smart phone adopter and I now use a tablet computer when I preach, do my devotions, and read God’s Word. Recently, however, I dusted off my old NIV and began to read it in my devotions instead of relying solely on an electronic version of the Bible. Here are five reasons I’m going to begin reading more from my paper Bible.

Reading the Bible
  1. It is now as novel to my brain as reading from a tablet computer was a few years ago. And the brain loves novelty. Novelty helps us pay better attention and enhances learning. Now, as I hold my dogeared Bible my attention to what I read has increased.
  2. Research now shows a decrease in what scientists call deep reading because our Kindle brain differs from our paper brain. It’s called the bi-literate brain. Our brain uses different circuits depending on whether we are reading from paper or plasma. Plasma reading encourages more non-linear reading (skimming and browsing when our eyes dart around) whereas paper reading encourages more linear reading, deeper reading. I’ve found that paper reading forces me to read a bit slower. I realize how I’ve missed slower and deeper Bible reading.
  3. More tactile involvement with paper reading has also increased my attention. The feel of leather and the texture of the thin paper when I turn a page to look up a Scripture has enhanced my engagement with God’s Word. The more senses we use, the more engaged we become.
  4. When I read on my Kindle, it’s silent. However, the sound from the shuffling pages of my paper Bible brings back a pleasant familiarity from former days. The ‘whoosh’ feels warm and inviting as it was a part of my life for decades before electronic Bibles.
  5. In my paper Bible I had often scribbled notes and insights in the margins that I had learned from others or from my own study. As I read my paper Bible now, I also read these notes. They remind of God’s past faithfulness when His Spirit taught me then.

I’m not selling my iPad on Craig’s list (or Kijiji here in Canada). I still enjoy the reading plans I quickly access online. And I want to easily compare different versions that my Bible program offers with side-by-side comparisons. But incorporating my paper Bible into my reading has brought me a new and fresh experience in God’s Word.

What are your thoughts and experiences about reading a paper Bible versus an electronic one?

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Are you a Generous Person? 10 Indicators you are

This week I began a new sermon series on generosity. Through examples and commands, the Scriptures challenge His followers to strive for abundant generosity. In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul describes an amazing example from a very poor church (the church in Macedonia) that exemplified lavish generosity through an offering they took up for an even more destitute church than they (the church at Jerusalem). As you read these 10 qualities of a generous person, ask yourself how well your life embodies each.

generosity road sign illustration design

First, some backstory. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth, a relatively wealthy church. A year prior they had committed to collecting an offering for the poor church in Jerusalem. But, for whatever reasons they had not completed it. Paul address this issue in 2 Cor. 8 by using the generosity of the Macedonian church in hopes that they (the church in Corinth) would complete the offering. I believe this chapter points to these 10 qualities.

Generous people…

  1. Give out of a joyful heart. Paul describes the Macedonian church as overflowing with joy.
  2. Don’t tie generosity to their financial status. Famine and a heavy handed government worked against the Christians in Macedonia. They were destitute themselves, but didn’t let that limit their generosity.
  3. Willing give. This church didn’t have to be coerced. They initiated giving.
  4. Consider giving a privilege rather than a duty. 
  5. Look for ways to give. They didn’t focus on their bad economic situation. Instead, they looked for how they could help others in spite of it.
  6. Have experienced a work of deep grace. Grace is a theme found throughout the 2 Corinthians. They truly understood what Jesus did for them and their lives evidenced that understanding.
  7. Welcome challenging giving opportunities. Paul wrote in verse 8 that giving  can actually “test the sincerity” of our love. They weren’t afraid to step out in faith with this challenging opportunity.
  8. Match their intentions to reality. Unlike the Corinthian church that intended to give but didn’t, the Macedonian church decided to give and actually did.
  9. Expect wise stewardship of their gifts. In verse 20 Paul says he took pains to make sure that how they administered their gifts looked right not only in the eyes of God but also in the eyes of the givers as well.
  10. Enthusiastically give. One of the Christians Paul sent with this message was described as being zealous. I believe Paul mentioned this quality to point to their need to be enthusiastic about their promise to give.

Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the late 1800′s and 1900′s served for 55 years without a furlough and spent the final two decades of her life bedridden. She captures the essence of true generosity with this quote.

You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving. 

How would you describe your generosity?

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3 Ways Leaders can Deal with their Shame

Shame is a powerful and often silent killer of our soul. It has afflicted many pastors and ministry leaders. Edward Welch, author of Shame Interrupted (a great book) defines shame in this way. Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated. Or, to strengthen the language, you are disgraced because you acted less than human, you were treated as if you were less than human, or you were associated with something less than human, and there are witnesses (Kindle loc 177-180). So how do we deal with it. Here are some thoughts.

Upset boy against a wall

3 Ways Leaders can Deal with their Shame

  1. Realize where shame comes from. 
    • It comes from our own sin.
    • It comes from sins others commit against us.
    • It comes simply by association (i.e., someone in your family commited something scandalous and you feel shame because of it).
    • It comes from our humanness (i.e., when we realize we don’t have what it takes to achieve our goals in life; this is often true for pastors when they realize they may never pastor a big church).
  2. Take comfort in God’s perspective on shame.
  3. Make four critical decisions.
    • Turn to his face in repentance. Read the amazing story of Isaiah’s encounter with God in Is. 6.1-7 for the biblical basis of my thoughts below.
      • When we feel shamed, we don’t want to look someone in the face. We want to avoid them. However, Jesus wants us to come into his presence and look Him in the face to deal with our shame caused by our own sin. He wants us to confess and repent. Psalms 34.5 says, Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
    • Receive his touch of forgiveness.
      • Jesus often physically touched the outcast, broken, and shamed. Human touch can often melt away shame. Jesus wants us to experience his touch of forgiveness and cleansing
    • Drink deeply of His Spirit.
      • In John 4 we read the familiar story about the woman at the well. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for water, he crossed many shame barriers: rabbis did not talk to women, Jews did not talk to Samaritans, and Jews did not contaminate themselves by eating or drinking with non-Jews. He offered her life-giving water from His Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit can wash away our shame as it did for this woman.
    • Feast at his table of acceptance in the church community.
      • After Peter denied Jesus, he felt great shame. Yet, after Jesus’ resurrection and after Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him, he had a meal with Peter and the other disciples which pictured his being welcomed back into community. Shame can melt away when we experience real community in the church.

Shame stings, but it need not be deadly. Although people and circumstances around us may still shame us (and it hurts), Christ can release us from its destructive power.

1Pet. 2.6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

What has helped people you know deal with their shame?

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6 Ways to Keep Porn out of Your Life

I’m in the middle of a sermon series called The Bare Facts on Sex. Last week I took an entire message and dealt with pornography. You can view the message here. During the first part I approached the issue from a biblical, relational, and neuroscience perspective. During the second part I suggested a simple acronym, PURITY, that captures 6 ways we can pull out of sexual sin (porn or other sexual sins) and/or stay sexually pure. I’ve summarized it here.

Adult Entertainment

THE PURITY PROCESS TO STAY SEXUALLY PURE

Purpose to change/stay pure before God.

You must start here. If you are sexually out of God’s boundaries, you must admit it (confess and repent) and purpose to change. Don’t deny it is what it is, sin. Don’t minimize its damages nor rationalize its use. Scripture tells us to flee from all sexual sin (1 Cor. 6.18). We are to view our body as God’s temple and live in such a way that reflects that truth. We are to glorify Him with our body.

And if you are within God’s boundaries, purpose to stay pure.

Understand how porn changes your brain.

You can read here my blog on what porn does to your brain. Because the brain is plastic (malleable based on what we put into our minds) porn actually changes its neural structure. Yet, it is also malleable in the other direction. If we make changes in our lives, renew our thinking, and yield to God’s transformative power, we can create new God honoring patterns on how we relate to sexual temptation. The Apostle Paul called it renewing of our minds (Romans 12.2).

Reshape your environment.

Discover what triggers your draw to porn. By doing so you can make changes to avoid those cues and lessen the opportunity for a stimulus. Therapists use the acronym, HALT, to help clients discover when they are most susceptible to temptation. It can help you discover when you are most vulnerable to porn.

We are most tempted when we are…

    • Hungry
    • Angry or anxious
    • Lonely
    • Tired

When we discover our cues, we can then make simple changes to avoid them, such as…

    • Asking your wife to not leave women’s magazines out in the open around the house (the ones with the shapely females on the front).
    • Move your computer monitor to a different place in your home or office. Better yet, put it where others will see you when you are on it.
    • Keep the lights on.
    • Don’t keep your iPad or Kindle next to your bed.
    • Turn off chats in Facebook.
    • Block some email.

 Invite involvement

This means accountability. Find an accountability partner who will lovingly hold you accountable to your thought life and what you view on the web. Put web blocking software on your computer. This is a great web site that offers such software.

Turn when tempted

Turn your eyes when tempted. The first three seconds are key when we see an image on the screen or see an attractive woman walk in front of us. Job provides a good model with his commitment,  I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. (Job 31.1)

The three A’s is a simple tool to help us turn when tempted. (from The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days)

    • Alert: Pay attention when you see something inappropriate. It may only take a split-second to recognize a tempting situation.
    • Avert: Close your eyes or look away. These first two steps should be instantaneous.
    • Affirm: Give yourself a mental high-five to congratulate your effort. Say to yourself, “I saw that by mistake, and I quickly looked away. I’ve been clean for (enter number of days) and I’m going to stay that way.”

Yield to Christ through prayer and repentance

 God promises us that He will give us a way out, but we have to walk through it.

 2Pet. 1.3   His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Porn is terribly damaging to our souls and our relationships, but by God’s grace we can be men (and women) who keep our thought lives and behavior pure before Him.

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