“I do not understand women.” It is a common phrase we hear. Women often proclaim their lack of understanding of men. However when we say we do not understand a specific gender we are usually referring to being unable to understand a specific person within that gender. We simply state the problem is the gender itself. Thus women are impossible to understand for men, and men are impossible to understand for women.
There is a simply failure of thought that takes root in the problem. We attempt to understand a person by trying to identify them with a certain group. In the above example it is a grouping of gender. We fail to properly understand the individual because we are filtering their actions through what we know of stereotypes to that group. Whenever a younger man asks me for advice on understanding women I give one very simple statement. Women are impossible to understand as a group because they are made up of individuals with individual thought and individual actions. No two women are the same. They will have similarities, but they are far from identical.
This issue goes far beyond gender though. We find it in politics with the democrats, republicans, and moderates. We find it in religion with the people of different faiths. We find it in creationists vs. evolutionists. We find it in heterosexuals and homosexuals. Any topics where there can be a group fall under this common mistake.
Perhaps the most failed application of this problem is found in the Christianity with the “us vs. them” mentality. We lump the individual into a believed stereotype. All Muslims have the potential of being terrorists who persecute Christians. All atheists have a complete lack of disrespect for those who believe in God and treat us as subhuman. All evolutionists are destined to become Nazis. Now let us make something very clear. There are certainly some individuals that fall into this stereotype. The poisonous and spiteful words I have heard from some atheists has far surpassed anything I have ever heard from any other grouping, but I have also met some wonderful atheists he may disagree with me with all their heart, but have a deep respect for me and my dedication for my beliefs. Obviously there are some Muslims who are terrorists, but I have set next to many a Muslim on a plane, and had a wonderful conversation with them.
I hate not being evaluated as an individual. Gays assume I hate them and pray they will burn in hell. Atheists assume I am incapable of a rational thought. Muslims assume I will go out of my way to offend them. I hate not being labeled for my individuality.
We even do this to fellow believers. Calvinists are apparently void of emotion and are all destined to be heretics when in fact I am good friends with some Calvinists who love the Lord and evangelize to the sinner better than most. The average Christian isn’t even capable of giving a proper definition of a Calvinist, Arminian, or some breed of the two. Charismatics are all emotion and speak in tongues all the time, and yet my experience on meeting individuals tells me different. Southern Baptists are strict and to traditional and yet I see a wide variety from individuals in that category.
Why is this all so important? Why should we care about this problem? Because feeding this issue stunts evangelism. How can I possibly share the gospel to someone when I have a false understanding of who that person is? Why should they bother to listen to me if I do not even want to understand who they are as an individual?
It’s just like trying to date a girl. When I pursued dating the woman who is now my wife I did not try and understand women. I tried to understand her as an individual. When I am sharing the gospel with an individual I do not try and understand some grouping they supposedly fall into. I try to understand them as a person. What makes them tick? What are their goals and dreams? Do they have a sense of humor? What are they passionate about? What are their experiences in life? If I understand the individual then I can help them see how the gospel relates to them as an individual.