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Don’t jump too far

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–A man was beaten to death by an undetermined number of people after the car he had been riding in hit and injured a 2-year-old. According to reports, the June 19 attack on David Morales in Austin, Texas, occurred when he went to check on the child. Ironically, the child was not seriously injured.

More than a year ago, police arrested three members of the Duke University lacrosse team after they were accused of raping an exotic dancer at a fraternity party. Many members of the Duke faculty circulated a letter condemning the accused students and asked that they be suspended. Ironically, all charges against the players were eventually dropped because there was no evidence that a sexual assault ever took place. The accuser, it seems, was less than truthful.

What do the recent beating in Austin and the Duke rape case have in common? In both cases individuals jumped to conclusions and hurdled over the concept of presumed innocent until proven guilty — a concept that is foundational to our legal system.

Jumping to a conclusion is an emotional reaction to a presumed reality. It does not take into account facts and ignores context. Both of which are critical if one is interested in arriving at the truth of any given situation.

The people who beat David Morales to death in Austin reacted emotionally, irrationally and immediately to a tragic accident. In their rage, they not only failed to check on the child’s condition but they also attacked and killed an innocent man.

The professors at Duke who circulated the condemning letter were certain of the lacrosse players’ guilt. Their politically correct rage made them deaf and blind to any evidence that might contradict their conclusion. The result: These learned individuals were ready to throw innocent individuals under the jail.

The Duke case proves that education does not render one immune from the propensity of jumping to a conclusion. Every time we are exposed to information, the temptation to draw a conclusion without considering facts and context is ever present.

Jumping to conclusions seems to have become a national pastime. News organizations routinely publish polls based on what people “think” or “feel” about certain events or situations. The flaw in these surveys is that too many people participating simply have no idea what they are talking about. They are only reacting, usually emotionally, without the benefit of a full range of facts or context.

While innocent until proven guilty is a legal maxim that is applied to a court of law, it would a wise standard to adopt for life. The next time you are privy to a bit of negative gossip about someone, don’t just jump to any old conclusion. Take some time to examine the broader context of the situation and see if any other facts emerge.

Here is an example. Jesus told the story of a widow who gave two cents to the temple treasury. Hearing the first part of the story, you might think: “The widow who lives down the street only gave two cents to the treasury today.” You can jump to the conclusion that the widow is stingy and cheap or you can wait until you have more facts and some context.

If you withhold judgment and are patient, you eventually would learn that the widow gave all the money that she had to live on. In fact, some of the biggest contributors to the temple treasury are the stingiest because they give on a tiny portion of their wealth. In comparison, the widow is probably the most significant contributor.

To avoid the temptation of jumping to a conclusion, remember that a person should be presumed innocent until he or she has been proven guilty. Additionally, nothing is meaningful without a context and all the facts are needed in order to have a complete picture of reality.

If the aforementioned had been applied in Austin, Texas, and Durham, N.C., the outcomes could have been so different. Instead, people jumped to conclusions based on emotion and bias. As a result one man is dead and the reputations of many are in tatters.

Jumping to conclusions has consequences, sometimes life-altering ones. “For lack of wood the fire goes out,” Solomon wrote. “And where there is no whisperer (gossiper) contention quiets down.” Wise words to remember the next time you are tempted to jump to a conclusion.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears in Baptist Press each week, is editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs