James March talks about decision-making. He says that we think people make rational decisions. We assume that people will evaluate options and choose based on what is reasonable. Which is why we often feel frustration at poor choices of ourselves and others and we say, “What were you thinking?”
Instead, we are more likely to make decisions that are appropriate to an identity. As March says, we look to see what kind of situation this is and then we say, “What would a person like me do in a situation like this?”
Imagine, for example, that a person has learned the identity of being a failure, or of being inadequate, or of being an outsider. Give them remarkable opportunities and they may still choose the option that makes little sense but is what a failure would do.
I see this gap between reason-based decision and identity-based decisions often. In the spiritual world, asking “what would Jesus do” makes little sense unless we identify with Jesus.
That’s why we find many places in the Bible that talk about identity. For example, in a letter that teaches about identity, Paul says “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts,kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.”
The actions of compassion don’t start with a command to be nice. Instead, Paul points out identity: picked by God, cleaned up, beloved. When I know that I am a loved one, I am more likely to look at a situation which is filled with tension and hostility and say, “how would a person who didn’t question being loved respond?”
It could be a response like “Father, forgive them for they don’t understand what they are doing.” Which isn’t reasonable. But it is appropriate.