What does this mean? “This shampoo contains 110 percent active ingredients.”
What does this mean? “Everything on Sale! Does not include electronics, men’s jeans, bathrobes, lighting fixtures, women’s shoes or jewelry, pickled doves tongues, shirts, hats, ties, hair supplies and anything over 2 dollars.”
What does this mean? “If you use our diet we guarantee you will lose up to 5 pounds a week.”
Yes, you’re correct. None of the above advertising statements means anything. Give me a well deserved break, will ya? If 100 percent is . . . well, you know, one hundred percent, then how did that 10 percent sneak in there?
Headlines blare EVERYTHING ON SALE! And in tiny little letters the great big EXCEPT just lays there daring you to read it. Actually, daring you to TRY to read it. Hey, does anyone have a magnifying glass? I need to find out what isn’t on sale at the Everything on Sale sale.
Of course, I left my favorite for last. That ad could just as easily have guaranteed the loss of up to 100 pounds a week. Up to means just what it says – up to. And, the bottom line is “0” will fit well into the “up to” scenario.
My dear little, departed Grannie gave me early lessons in discernment when she pointed out advertisements like the above and scoffed.
Yet, through the years I’ve had to gain more knowledge and insight in order to better understand how to be discerning. And here are 5 little known factors I’ve learned may affect your discernment.
1. Time and place matter
Just as good historians understand the importance of taking into account the time and place an historical document was written, time and place affect discernment.
My girlfriend confessed to me that she was swept away by the attention her ex-husband lavished on her in the few weeks she knew him before they were married. She was away from home for the first time in her life. Her college friends were new and untried. She was immature and lonely. No wonder her discernment capabilities were so lacking.
She had the clues. He had been married twice before. He was seldom sober. He had no job. But, he was handsome. He was fun. He was romantic. He was, as she soon learned, a jerk.
Had my friend met the ex at a different time and place chances are her ability to be discerning would have been magnified. Nevertheless, sometimes people with a great ability to be discerning fail to see what is right in front of them.
2. Blind spots happen
It is noticeable that older, more mature people have a better sense of discernment. After all, they’ve seen more, experienced more, understood more. Yet there are times when being mature isn’t the answer against a dropping discernment meter.
The Grannie I mentioned above, was married to my wonderful Papa. And Papa was pretty darn good at spotting the nonsense in the world, with one exception.
For some reason Papa never could see past the Get-Rich-Quick schemes that passed his way. One after another Papa bought into the shysters and scammers bags of tricks. It was almost as if there was a button which could be pushed by the unethical scumbags which turned off Papa’s ability to be discerning.
Because blind spots are, uh, blind spots you aren’t likely to notice them. Truth be told, we most often only notice our blind spots when we gain 20/20 hindsight.
3. Being discerning is different from being judgmental
As illustration of this point I’ll use a woebegone dog who has somehow gotten a terrible thorn in his paw and is seeking help.
If Woebegone goes to Mr. Judgmental with his problem he is likely to hear, “Well, you rotten dog. You’ve done something very stupid and walked among the thorns of this world. Get away from me you lousy dog!”
But, if Woebegone goes to Mr. Discerning the response will be much different. “Come here, Woebegone. I see you’ve made the same mistake many of us make and walked among the thorns of this world. Let me help you remove that nasty thorn from your paw. May I show you a better place to walk?”
Now, being discerning doesn’t always mean helping others (although it often does.) Sometimes being discerning means knowing when to turn and walk away. Consider what the best plan of action would be if Woebegone came toward you growling with teeth bared.
4. Apathy is a much worse choice than the difficult task of discernment
I don’t really care if you understand this point. So, I’m not going to bother or go out of my way explaining it.
5. Asking the wrong questions skews discernment.
Because each of us comes to any given situation with a pair of colored glasses implanted firmly across our eyes we often ask different questions. That is not a bad thing. It is a good idea to listen to and learn from others who have a different point of view, a different color in their lenses.
But differences of opinion are not the issue here. Sometimes, individuals simply ask the wrong questions when trying to be discerning.
The old “if it feels good, do it” crowd or the “I’m OK, You’re OK” group forget the importance of discerning between good and bad.
Either feeling good or being OK sounds nice but can actually lead to quite painful situations.
It feels good to lay pool side all day long. I know, I’ve done it. The burns I received from the experience were extremely painful.
The “OK” person I spent a great deal of time with turned out to have a metaphorical hidden knife she could deftly implant firmly in my back.
In order to avoid life’s pitfalls and make wise decisions based on careful discernment it’s important to ask the right questions.
- Does this event or action fit in with my personal philosophy or world view?
- Am I being finicky or nit-picky?
- Am I assuming I will or won’t like this person, place or thing without proof?
- What can I do to test this theory, idea or concept?
- Has this person asked me to lower my standards?
- Is this right or wrong?
You need to dig to the heart of the matter. Taking time to sort through the questions (even the ones which are painful) puts you in a better position to practice and use good discernment.
- Chose a situation you are now facing.
- Remember to chose a good time and place to think through the matter.
- Watch for any blind spots you may have experienced in the past with an eye toward avoiding them now.
- Think about questions (some of which will make you uncomfortable) that allow you to get to the heart of the matter while using your head.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you I believe using your journal to practice being discerning is the easiest yet most advantageous method available. Yes, using your journal to ask appropriate questions of yourself will give your discernment meter a giant boost.