Scarface was Right, We are the Masters of Deflection

Posted on August 28, 2011


People seem to have fundamentally changed.  There is something as they say, rotten in Denmark (no offense to Denmark). We are becoming more and more isolated from other people.  In the old days at the end of the work day, you would park your car in the driveway, get out, wave to your neighbors, manually open the garage door and then drive in.  Today, we are more like Adam West in the Batmobile.  Half a block from home, we hit the garage door opener and by the time we arrive in front of our house, the door to the bat cave is open and we drive right in without stopping.  Before we exit our vehicle, the door to the bat cave has closed and we let out a sigh of relief that we did not have to talk with our neighbor.  Why is that?

I think that most of us, especially those in the church, fear being known and knowing others.  We isolate ourselves; stay home (think ostrich with its head in the ground), so we do not have to learn that our neighbors (or friends or family) are in ‘need’.  It’s as if, so long as we are not consciously aware of a specific problem, we are not accountable for how we respond.

I was reflecting on the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  For those not familiar with the story, it basically tells about a man robbed and beaten.  As he lay bloodied and unconscious by the side of the road several people passed by (a priest, Levite and a despised Samaritan) but only the last individual (the Samaritan) stopped to care for the man.  Jesus then asked, of these people, which one was the man’s neighbor?  The answer, of course, was the one that helped him.  The irony of the story was that the first two individuals (priest and Levite) were the religious leaders of the day and Jesus hammers his point home further by making the hero of the story, a Samaritan who were despised by the Jewish people.

Now, before we miss the opportunity for personal growth and start pointing our fingers at the priest and the Levite, ask yourself this, how much mercy do we extend to brothers and sisters in the church?  It has been said that the Christian army, is the only army that shoots its own wounded.

The reality is that we love to point fingers at others (individuals, organizations or whatever method we use for grouping and labeling) and call out their real or perceived wrongs, problems or failings.  Example, when personally confronted by a specific instance of poverty and starvation, we lament and immediately deflect any sense of personal responsibility and deflect the responsibility for action to someone else, like the church or Bill Gates.  Why do we do this?  To avoid suffering the guilt of responsibility, we simply point to others we believe are more capable of addressing the issues.  We have become masters of the deflection.

I know that I do this as well, but it’s so much more readily apparent to see in our children.  I might ask my daughter, ‘Why haven’t you taken the garbage out?’  Immediately she becomes very defensive and responds, ‘Me?  Why so and so hasn’t taken out the garbage all week!  I just took it yesterday’.

If you have ever used statements like:

  • …Bill Gates (insert wealthy person of your choice) should be doing X (insert personal passion of ours)…why isn’t the Church (or whatever organization or group of your choice) doing something about Y…

Then you are just another piece of the problem.

If we were a person in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which one would we be?  Honestly, we would be a fourth person.  We would be the self-righteous observer, videotaping the event, detached from it behind the camera, providing commentary.

We would criticize the religious leaders for not doing what we believe they should have done.  We might praise the Samaritan but more likely, we would criticize him for:

  • not helping sooner
  • not preventing the attack
  • waiting until the man was beaten and robbed before helping him out
  • not staying with the man until he was fully healed
  • paying someone else to care for the man and not doing it himself

We conveniently would forget that we were there and did nothing to help the man out.  Why is it that we feel compelled to call out others for any and all of their failings or inactions?

There was a scene in the movie ‘Scarface’ that has stuck with me since a teenager.  Al Pacino is a known drug lord; he’s dining in a fancy restaurant with his wife.  They get into a loud arguing match, which ends with his wife making a scene and storming out of the restaurant.  Every eye in the restaurant is staring at him.  Al Pacino, alone at his table in the very middle of the restaurant, looks around the room to see that everyone has ceased talking and are staring at him.

He stares them down and speaks.  What?  What are you looking at?  You sit there and point your finger at me and say, look at the bad man.  What does that make you?  Good?  No, you’re not good.  You just know how to hide.  At least, I am honest.  As he leaves, he tells then to say goodbye to the bad man.

That is us. That is why we lead our conversation with finger pointing at others.  Like the Pharisee, who prays to God, thanking him that he is not like the tax collector, we point out others failings.  What does that make us?  Good?  No, we are not good; we just know how to hide.  We deflect, drawing attention away from ourselves and what we aren’t doing.  It makes us feel better about ourselves.

At the end of our life, what others ‘did’ or ‘did not do’ will not matter an iota in our own personal judgment.  How we lived our lives and what we did with what was given to us, is all that will matter then.  No amount of deflection will change that.

Did you invest your 1, 5 or 10 talents into the lives of others…or did you bury your talent(s) into our own personal comfort and invest them only in your own personal entertainment?