The Hermeneutic of Charity

It is very easy to assume the worst about another.

  • They didn’t show up on time? They don’t respect me.
  • They didn’t complete the project on time? They are lazy.
  • They didn’t communicate with me? They are arrogant.
  • They didn’t fulfill their commitments? They are millenials.

The list goes on, and on…and none of it is of any use.

What happens in life is that our expectations are constantly unmet. Always, always what happens is that something happens inside of us when our expectations are unmet. Some of us can react in resentment or anger, others simply never work with you again. Note, none of this has anything to do with the other person, only our response to them.


The most important thing to realize is the incredible amount of power or importance you have given another person who disappoints you. You had such high expectations for them, of course they would disappoint you at some time or another. Their disappointing you has absolutely nothing to do with them, it has everything to do with the importance you give them.

There are two tools that I would propose when you are dealing with these disappointments:

The first is confusion. Being confused is the most effective psychological tool, because it puts a pause on your amygdala’s fight or flight reaction. It allows you to gather more information, to see the information more clearly. Still mad? Stop, say the words, “I am confused.” That will help you diffuse your own anger, keeping you from going down a spiral of bad emotion.

The second is a hermeneutic of charity. Hermeneutics are how we interpret events or information. If I show up late, for example, it may be helpful to say, “I know that Alan knows that it’s important to be on time, since we talked about this yesterday. However, since I believe he is a good man and would do his very best to be on time, I’m not sure (read: confused) why he is late again. I am sure there is something going on with him or his family, and maybe even there is something I can do to help him.” This takes a great amount of humility to accept that you might not know everything at first.

It’s hard, however, when you don’t get to have those conversations. If you lose a job, it’s easy to resent your previous employer. They might be a two-faced spineless spawn of Satan, but you also get to undo the evil they have done to you by embracing a hermeneutic of charity. It will do far more for you than it will for them, and you will have new opportunities to love and to be understood much better in the future. That is the choice of love, and also the choice of hope.



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