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My first experience consulting for a foundation was in 1977. A friend had been giving to a televangelist and wanted to know if his major gifts to the ministry were being used appropriately. After three months of interviews and research, it was clear to me he was being taken. His heart was right but the evangelist had him in a "headlock" of sorts. Like millions of other donors he had come to believe the evangelist had a special anointing and the outlandish claims and lifestyle were all part of his appeal. He was a great builder of the Kingdom and God was moving through his ministry.
I presented my conclusions and made it clear how badly he was being misled and the gifts misused. Everyone in the room was nodding in agreement - except my friend. He listened but then continued to support the ministry against our arguments and recommendations. It was one of my most frustrating moments. The evidence was incontestable. The logic was flawless and yet he went ahead and wrote checks for several years. I knew then consulting was not my career. I wanted people to take my advice!
Even now, I'm not a consultant by inclination but I have learned a few things about working with people who ask for my perspective. I discovered it in the story of the resurrected Jesus drawing up alongside the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus had told the disciples that he would meet them in Galilee - to the north of Jerusalem. Why were these two on the road to Emmaus - to the west of Jerusalem? They were full of good questions, open to discussion and intent on understanding but intentionally headed in the wrong direction.
Had I been coaching Jesus, I might have advised him to say, "You are headed in the wrong direction. Turn around. Listen to what I am telling you." But he doesn't. He walks with them in the wrong direction while explaining things as they go. It's difficult to do that when you want people to make right choices - especially in their giving. After all, the point was to get them headed back to Jerusalem.
Here's the part that has helped me as much as anything else. It is at the end of the day when they sit down to eat together that their eyes are opened and they realize who he is. Over time, this has been my experience as well. It is not the irrefutable facts or the logic that works with people headed in the wrong direction. Their eyes - and sometimes mine - are opened when I give up my desire for them to do what is clearly (according to me) best for them. It is at "the end of the day" when we sit with each other with no agenda or prescriptions when real progress is made. After all, when they reflected later on the experience they did not say, “Were not our intellects burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” No, it was their hearts that burned within them.
Had I known years ago about Jonathan Haidt’s work on cognitive bias I would have not been as frustrated. He uses the image of a small rider (reason) riding atop a very large elephant (emotion) and makes a convincing argument that while our reason can normally manage our emotion there are times when the elephant beneath us takes control. “Perched atop the elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.” My friend's emotional attachment to the evangelist and commitment to the organization outweighed all the rational evidence I presented. I appealed to the Rider and not the Elephant. I should have brought peanuts instead of facts to the meeting. It was no contest.
It's not fast and it's not natural for the impatient. I would much rather tell them what to do. There are many times when people disregard my counsel and experience to keep going in what I would say is the wrong direction. But over the years a few, like the two on the road, turn themselves around and head back in the right direction. At the end of the day they are on their way to the right place and that is one of the great satisfactions of this work.
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