For way too long, I went through life second-guessing people who told me about different types of mistreatment they experienced, witnessed, or heard about. I doubted that what they were saying could really happen. I look back now and see that it was my naivete that kept me from asking more questions, seeing the situations clearly or even being open to understanding the circumstances described to me. I just didn’t think injustice happened all that often so I figured there was a more likely alternative explanation for what happened. I have learned that this is actually common – and really damaging.
Although we’re warned in Scripture against being naïve, in some Christian circles naivete is seen as neutral or even a good thing. Maybe that’s because we’re more trained toward being “nice” than true biblical virtues? Sharon Hodde Miller’s book Nice: Why we love to be liked and how God calls us to more speaks to these cultural tendencies.
But when we look again at Scripture we read things like: “The naive inherit foolishness, But the sensible are crowned with knowledge.” (Prov 14:18) and “How long will you gullible people love being so gullible?” (Prov 1:22). Jesus Himself warns us to be on guard against vicious wolves dressed up as harmless sheep. After I experienced damage from leaders in a church, it opened my eyes. I realized that my naivete made me an easier target. In addition, in the aftermath, I had to wade through a lot of shock that slowed down my reaction time! I should have heeded Jesus’ warning and been more on guard so that I could be ready to respond effectively.
My experience opened my eyes to a lot. But it should not have taken me experiencing mistreatment myself to be able to take others’ reports seriously.
When it comes to distorting our ability to recognize injustice, the impact of naivete is severe. Naivete can cause us to ignore injustice, not register it, minimize it, question it – all of which prevents us from looking into the issue and then addressing it, even when it is happening to ourselves. It makes us sitting ducks and easy targets to victimize in the first place and then it makes us less likely to be ready to take strong action in response.
I have noticed several types of naivete blinders in myself. Do any of these ring a bell for you?
If my experience is that injustice hasn’t happened that much to me, I extrapolate that to figure injustice must not happen much in general. I might think it only happens in other countries, for example. This makes me dubious when someone claims it has happened to them. I’ll be more likely to try to explain it away.
“What, her?? No way! She is so nice!” Since someone is nice to ME, I think there must be a misunderstanding or some other explanation of the situation. My naivete about injustice blinds me to the reality that abusive people and institutions can’t afford to be abusive to everyone – they need people in their corner backing them up when the truth comes out. They will typically only target particular people, often people who they think others will doubt.
Reactions and rectification blinders
If you haven’t been thrown into the deep end of injustice, you may not know much about DARVO, fake apologies, and other dynamics that often come into play when addressing injustice. So if someone publicly apologizes for wrongdoing and gets a standing ovation at church, we assume things have been dealt with effectively. We may allow people to make us think we aren’t willing to give “grace” if we want a deeper investigation or solution. But when an injustice is addressed only superficially, it makes the situation worse – for the victim, for the perpetrator, and for the broader community as a whole.
“No one else is seeing anything or saying anything, so maybe I’m imagining things.” Our naivete about people’s general willingness or ability to confront injustice can make us wonder if our injustice radar is out of whack. “If it’s being allowed to continue by our leadership, maybe it’s not that bad” … one would hope! Unfortunately, that is a naïve hope.
Historical impact blinder
When we’re not aware of the current-day impacts of past injustice, we can blame victims for how those injustices have impacted them and ignore the ongoing systemic injustices that stem from it. This ignorance and naivete blind us to how past injustices continue to impact our friends and neighbors.
Our brains use our naivete to trick us into holding tight to the status quo (which our brains love!) and to justify our desperate desire to not have to rock the boat. We can hide behind our naivete with “outs” like “I don’t want to get in the middle of all this,” “Sounds like an interpersonal issue,” or “I don’t want to ‘gossip.’” Burying our heads in the sand allows the (potential) injustice to continue unfettered.
We are blind to our blinders … so what can we do?
The number one solution to all these blinders is to establish a rock solid commitment to look into any and all injustices that come up in our circles at work, friends, local community, church, family. When we have a plan in place to investigate potential mistreatment, we can override our brain’s attempts to look away. Looking into the issue that is raised is important whether the complaint is justified or not – you will either clear the air or uncover a problem that needs to be addressed.
We can also take off our naivete blinders by learning more about hallmarks of injustice. The more you learn about the mechanisms of injustice in one area, the more easily you can identify any kind of injustice around you. Books like Redeeming Power and Something’s Not Right are good places to start.
Victims of injustice often say the worst part of an unjust situation is a dismissive reaction from the people who they think will love and support them through their distress. When we do nothing, argue with them about it, change the subject, or minimize what happened to them, it doubles down on the message of the original injustice: “You are not important.” That is devastating. These dismissive reactions victims hear are often even more damaging emotionally and psychologically than the original injustice itself.
Taking off our blinders is part of equipping ourselves to do the work of justice that God calls us to – and a wonderful way to love people deeply when they need it most.
Sarah Driver has worked for 20+ years at local, state, and international levels on a range of justice issues from education reform and gender equality to human trafficking and spiritual abuse. Sarah has lived and worked on four continents and holds a master’s degree in social policy and development from the London School of Economics. You can find her on Instagram and at JusticeDriver.com.