In The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, the authors, Rosamund and Benjamin Zander write about a practice they call “giving an A” (26). They define this practice as “an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them. It is a shift in attitude that makes it possible for you to speak freely about your own thoughts and feelings while, at the same time, you support others to be all they dream of being” (26). In other words, you view a person in a manner that does not necessarily conform to reality in an effort to help you and them move forward positively. It is a strategic use of empathy for your sake or for the sake of others. Doing so may also alleviate stress and anxiety. Sometimes it looks like assuming the best in an effort to not let the mind run away with negativity or bitterness. For example, say you go to a restaurant and you find that your waiter is the rudest waiter you’ve ever had. Perhaps he is short with you, he’s not brought you water when you’ve asked twice; your order came back wrong and it took him forever to bring you extra napkins. You’re irritated at his apparent incompetence and consider complaining to the manager. You conclude he’s a bad waiter through and through and should find another line of work. As a waiter, he’s clearly failing; he gets an F.
However, suppose you decide to give this waiter an A in spite of his poor performance. Suppose you tell yourself, “This is the best waiter I ever had!” You may start thinking of how mentally demanding the job is. A waiter has to remember a lot of information, for a lot of different people, all in a short amount of time. They are constantly checking in with, “How is everything?” or “Do we need anything here, more drinks, more napkins? How’s the food?” They’re job is to ensure that you remain content for your duration at the restaurant. You then might tell yourself, “I could never be a waiter.” You become less anxious and irritated about the situation. And then, what if the waiter says to you, “Sorry for all of the confusion today, we are short staffed, two of our wait staff are out sick.” Wouldn’t your perception of the waiter change knowing this information? You might come to realize that in spite of being understaffed, this guy is doing the best he can. Shifting perception from an F to an A, brings us to a more positive and hopeful place.
Here’s another application of the principle from the book. Rosamund Zander talks about the reality that throughout her childhood, contact with her father was sporadic, as her parents separated shortly after her birth. He remarried, moved across the country and their contact was minimal. Life for her father, to quote Robert Redford’s portrayal of Roy Hobbs from the movie The Natural, “didn’t turn out the way I expected.” At sixty-five, her father committed suicide. Years later, Rosamund struggled with the question, “Do I think he loved me?” She felt unloved and later realized that she brought this understanding of herself into her personal relationships. She writes, “In fact, I recognized that it was the box that every intimate relationship of mine had come packaged in. And when I felt unloved, had I striven patiently to make known my desires and to be understood and acknowledged? Absolutely, in every case. And always I had been left with a feeling of failure” (48).
Rosamund implemented the principle of giving an A to her father to help her reconcile the notion of feeling unloved. After a while, she came to the following conclusion:
“He loved me;
He knew me;
He felt he had nothing to offer me” (49).
Rosamund writes, “The rearrangement of meaning seemed to me more real, and attuned to a wiser part of me, than the story I had previously sworn by” (49), that of being unloved. She reframed her problem and gave it another narrative not as an act of self-deception but as an alternative to help her move forward. Days later, she unexpectedly found an old letter written to her by her father. She writes, “It was in my father’s hand, dated some twenty years previously. I looked at it as though I had never seen it before; indeed, I would have said that I had never received a letter from my father in my entire life” (49).
The letter read:
It was wonderful to see you. I hope you choose a profession that involves working with and helping others, because I think you are really talented at that.
The letter confirmed to her that she was on the right track.
As I read about the principle of giving an A, it reminded me so much of God’s grace. In Romans, we read, “even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (4:17). This is the principle of giving an A. How so? The Gospel offers a way for sinners, that’s all of us, to be seen by God as if we’ve never sinned. In Isaiah, God says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (1:18). This is a call for justification and for reconciliation; it is a way for us to attain a right standing before God. Yet this right standing is nothing we can earn or merit, it is a free gift of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life.” Later, Jesus says, referring to himself, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him who he hath sent” (John 6:29). And in Romans, it says, “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (10:9). When this happens, Christ’s righteousness is credited to a person. We see it as an unfair exchange while we are thankful for it. He was made sin on our behalf and died a death he did not deserve because we owed a sin debt against God we could never pay. By faith in Christ, no longer am I seen by God as a failing, unrighteous sinner but rather the righteousness of God because of my faith in Jesus, who lived the perfect, sinless life we could never live. God gives me an A even though I don’t deserve it. And I am thankful for it.
Weeks ago, I went to downtown Boise with my friend Shawn to open air preach. As I stood on the stool, preaching God’s goodness, I read Isaiah 43:25 that says, “I, yes I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” and Hebrews 8:12, “”For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” I couldn’t help but get choked up because in that moment it was as if I could sense and see all of the wrongs I’ve done in life and knowing that in God’s economy, they are not there anymore.