What do you reflect to the people you encounter?

I read an interesting study comparing two classes of fifth graders. One class heard several messages about the problems associated with litter. They saw pictures of ugly, littered landscapes and wrote essays about the importance of not littering.

The other class heard from a variety of sources that they were exceptionally neat and orderly. The janitor commented that their room was the neatest in the building, the teacher commented on their tidiness, the principal made a point of observing and remarking on their neatness.

Any guesses about which approach resulted in less littering?

I was reminded of this lesson as I rode me bike past a local high school and saw several kids sitting across the street smoking cigarettes. Both of my parents were heavy smokers, and both died horrible, painful deaths from lung cancer. I wondered how these bright, healthy young people would intentionally, unnecessarily engage in such destructive behavior.


Like the first fifth grade class, they know the facts. Every kid in America knows the health risks of smoking. They’ve seen the nasty examples of blackened lungs, examined the statistics; unlike my parents, they know exactly what they’re doing to themselves.

We might dismiss this as simple youthful indiscretion or their natural perception that they’re indestructible and immortal. But that ignores the huge proportion of kids who avoid various forms of self-destructive behavior. And it certainly doesn’t explain the actions of adults who adopt and persist in actions that they know to be wrong and hurtful to themselves and others.

As I worked with kids for thirty-five years, I concluded that the best, most compelling information does little to alter behavior. Same thing’s true in my own life—I made harmful, destructive choices along the way, and I cannot claim ignorance. I KNEW exactly what I was doing; that knowledge simply didn’t impact my behavior.

Let me say that again, because I’d really like to hear your responses: The most complete and accurate information, by itself, does little to alter behavior.

I’m sure there are complex psychological explanations for this counter-intuitive, illogical phenomenon, but I think it’s rooted in the fact that most decisions involve a significant emotional component.

And in case you haven’t noticed, emotions ain’t logical or rational.

Remember that second fifth grade class? They were simply praised for doing the right thing. The adults around them reflected an image of neatness and orderliness, and the kids knew their behavior was noticed and appreciated.


I’m thinking about this in the context of following Jesus. If I want others to know Him and His freedom, what should I do? What did He do?

Jesus debated theology and confronted the hypocrisy of the hard-hearted religious leaders, but that wasn’t His style of evangelism. Facts and knowledge don’t impact choices; neither do nagging or threats about the certainty of eternal damnation.

Jesus hung out with people. When they looked at Him they experienced the reality that God loved them. He reflected God’s grace and truth, and they moved toward that image.

I think it still works like that.

How can you reflect Jesus to the folks you encounter?

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Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

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