Friday, February 11, 2011

Pinky Swear - Mountainside Chats

When I have planned events, I have learned to be pessimistic about people attending when they say the will. Many many times I have been excited when someone pushes the “attending” button on facebook, only to discover their absence when the event actually comes. Then many people who were not on the “attending” or “may be attending” list end up arriving. Sometimes I have wished there was another level of RSVP, such as “I pinky swear.” (interesting side note: Wikipedia says this terminology came from a Japanese practice which involved cutting off one’s pinky if the promise was broken).
However, I must admit that I recently set an appointment with a colleague and somehow completely forgot about it. When I set up the appointment, I had every intention of meeting with her, I really needed her help. Between the time of setting the appointment and it actually arriving, that need changed. I think because the need became less dire, I was not thinking about the appointment enough for it to get on my iCal (without which I probably would not make it to anything).
Research on intentions suggests that people generally fail to consider anticipated external distractions, negative inner states (such as anxiety), or depletion of one’s personal will when making intentions (von Suchodoletz & Achtziger, 2011). Another issue is the limitations of human working memory. Our brains can only hold a particular amount of information in current focus. When that threshold is breached, we may fail to access reminders that are not as readily available (von Suchodoletz & Achtziger, 2011).
In Matthew 5:33, Jesus discusses intentions with his followers. He seems to have been concerned with the practice of people mentioning religious symbols to lend weight to their intended actions (like saying “I pinky swear”). He says that if you really mean “yes” when you say it, you should not have to pinky swear. When we have to lend weight to something we say, we are basically admitting that something we might say without such weight may not be entirely true.
Since Jesus proclaimed the importance of intentions, I think Christians should be very careful with keeping our word. We need to take a step back and carefully consider anticipated distractions, inner mental states, personal will, and working memory limitations. If we do this with sober judgment, we will not need to pinky swear. However, this may be difficult because it might require us to actually be honest!

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