The Problem of Distance

Jumping to Conclusions

I was reading recently of an interesting and all too common experience in the book of Joshua that indicates a poor leadership reaction. I call it the Joshua 22 Syndrome.

Coin operated binocular on the rocks

And it’s not a great leadership practice. In fact, it causes a lot of problems. Here’s the backdrop to what was taking place.

The twelve tribes of Israel were wrapping up their conquest of The Promised Land. Two of the tribes, Reuban and Gad, plus one half of the tribe of Manasseh, settled on the eastern side of the Jordan River. All the other tribes settled on the western side of the river. Later, the Eastern tribes built an “altar of imposing size” v.10.

The rest of the tribes of Israel heard about it. This is where the problem starts. It’s recorded in verse 12 that when the rest of Israel heard it, the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them. They were hopping mad and ready for a fight. As they moved across the river, they sent a delegation ahead of them, fully convinced of the rightness of their perspective and the justification of their actions.

The Eastern tribes were flabbergasted. They were dumbfounded at the response of their friends and family from the western parts of their land. They explained that they were not violating God’s law by erecting the monument. They only wanted to remind future generations of Israelites that even though they were located across the boundary line of the Jordan River that they were still a part of Israel. They pleaded that even though there was some actual distance between them that that distance did not cause disassociation. Distance does cause problems, though. How so?

Notice how the Western tribes reacted to what they had heard.

  1. They immediately drew the wrong conclusion… The others were doing something wrong.

  2. They quickly rallied uninformed support… They gathered together at Shiloh.

  3. They reactively devised the wrong response… They were intent on going to war.

  4. They presumptively asked the wrong question… How could you do this wrong?

Not being there, not having gone through the process of making decisions or implementing actions together always has a tendency for inaccurate understanding and subsequently unhelpful responses.

I’ve wrestled with this reality throughout my leadership experiences. I have always had the tendency for quick judgments and reactions. I’ve had to learn a better approach. This isn’t new but has proven very effective.

A better response to what we hear from a distance:

  1. Have as a given that I may be wrong in my understanding of what I’ve heard.

  2. Don’t draw conclusions based on hearsay.

  3. Draw up questions for understanding instead.

  4. Don’t spread the gossip to rally those who agree with my conclusions.

  5. Be willing to adjust my understanding and response based on more accurate information.

  6. Move toward them seeking understanding rather than condemnation. Ask – “I’ve heard such and such. Is that accurate? Could you help me with my understanding?

Distance, whether actual, relational, organizational, emotional or whatever, has built in proclivities for misunderstanding and harmful reactions. Close the gap with a better approach.

Question: How are you handling situations that you hear about? How is distance shaping your reactions? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.