Monday, November 12, 2012

Perception, Bias and Coaching

by Ben Howard

I’m going to assume you don’t follow the NBA and that’s fine. You’re wrong, but it’s fine that you’re wrong. We’ll get past that and I’m sure our relationship will be much better because of the honesty. However, since you don’t follow the NBA let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a team. We’ll call this team the Los Angeles Lakers. Over the summer this team compiled a group of talented basketball players in an effort to win the NBA championship. There was Kobe, the aging superstar, Pau, the talented Spaniard, Steve, the wily point guard, and Dwight, the smiling superhero.

This group of heroes and their ragtag band of followers would be coached by Mike Brown. Here’s where our story gets interesting. Brown has a reputation in the league. Brown has always been a hardworking coach rising from being a mediocre player at a mediocre college (San Diego State) all the way to head coach of an NBA franchise.

But Brown also has his critics. He was LeBron James’ coach in Cleveland when the team always seemed to fall short because of a dysfunctional offensive game plan. He has a reputation for defense and toughness, but a blind spot for offense.

To fix this issue in Los Angeles, Brown brought in an assistant coach named Eddie Jordan to implement the famous Princeton offense. The Princeton offense is complicated and takes time to learn and during the preseason the Lakers seemed to struggle with picking it up. It probably takes a month or two to pick up and a season or two to perfect, but when run correctly, it can be a thing of beauty.

But the Lakers will not have this time to learn and perfect the offense because after five games this season the Lakers fired Mike Brown. You see, the Lakers are expected to win and they started the season with one win and four losses. The owners, executives and many in the media have blamed Brown’s Princeton offense and reverted back to his modus operandi from Cleveland. All defense, no offense, underachiever.

Except that isn’t true in this case. According to statistics, the Lakers offense had actually been running quite well. It was defense that was a problem. This problem will only be exacerbated by the new Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni is known as an offensive genius whose teams don’t play defense at all. He was only hired today, so we’ll see what happens, but my initial reaction is tepid.

So, since you probably don’t follow the NBA, why am I bringing this up? I want to point out the extent that preconceived notions dominate our perspective on reality. Brown’s problem wasn’t offense, but since that was the problem before and because the system was complicated now, those in charge were unable to see past the perception.

This is one of the fundamental problems in all theology and it’s a problem for all of us no matter what background we come from. Everybody brings baggage to the table when they read the Bible, or when they read church history, or when they discuss tradition, or when they interpret current events. Everybody brings all of their baggage to bear when they try and do theology.

For instance, when someone tells you that they “Just read the Bible” or “Just preach the Gospel,” they are making a massive statement full of preconceived notions about how they interpret the Bible or how they interpret the Gospel. These are important preconceptions. Ultimately, most of our disagreements whether in theology, or politics, or relationships are not based on disagreements in fact, but instead disagreements in preconceptions.
One of the healthiest things a person, a church, or a nation can do is work to understand what baggage they carry, what preconceptions dominate their thought process. The best source for this knowledge is the perspective of others. The best way to understand your biases and underlying preconceptions is to talk with people different from you and open yourselves to their perspectives and critiques.

This is way the church needs to listen to atheists. It’s why the United States needs to listen to other countries including the ones who don’t like us very much. It’s why I need to listen to the people who criticize me. Not everything they say will be true, but some of it is. And when we hear truth, we need to wrestle with it instead of running away in fear and a misguided notion of self-preservation.

The big questions about God and love and peace and the world are all incredibly difficult to answer, maybe even impossible, but at least we can do our best to have open conversations. We can do our best to try and work through the problems that we can handle. The first step is to try and understand each other and to try and understand ourselves. If we do that, maybe the impossible won’t be so impossible anymore.


You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at]

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