“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!” This age-old adage speaks to our instinctual behaviour in challenging situations, however, it seems that many people have adopted a different approach, akin to a scene from The Simpsons.
In an episode of “The Simpsons”, characters like Homer, Chief Wiggum, and Otto dig themselves into a deep hole while searching for treasure. Even when they give up hope and consider getting out of the hole, Homer insists on digging further until Chief Wiggum interjects, exclaiming, “No, dig up, stupid!”
In our vicinity, numerous roads made of natural earth are typically labelled “Dry weather only” and, if we are lucky, they are graded by the council once a year. However, a few roads lack such warnings and following rain, these roads become slippery and challenging to traverse. After heavy rainfall, they become completely impassable. Surprisingly, despite these conditions, Google Maps often directs unsuspecting travellers down these routes when they choose the shortest path to their destination.
Unfortunately, our cellar door at the Shiraz Republic is often the intended destination for these hapless travellers. Consequently, we receive calls from individuals seeking help to pull their vehicles out of the bog.
I’m always astonished by how far people push themselves into the impassable. The mud in our area consists of sticky, red clay. It should be evident to drivers that they have made a poor choice as soon as they turn onto these roads but they seem to disregard all warning signs.
It is as if they have unknowingly entered a competition to see how far a normal car can drive along a muddy, slippery road before coming to a halt. I have come to believe that people feel embarrassed about seeking assistance. Most individuals attempt to free themselves from the bog and by the time they contact me for help, their car is often even more deeply stuck in the mud. Not only are their vehicles covered in mud, but the driver and passengers are as well.
This recurring scenario reflects a broader aspect of human nature. We frequently find ourselves persisting with a course of action, long after we should have recognised the warning signs. We stubbornly continue until we encounter serious trouble and/or face dire consequences. Our reluctance to seek help until it’s too late is a curious phenomenon.
This reluctance may be connected to a cognitive bias known as the “Sunk-cost’ fallacy.”- which refers to our inclination to continue investing in a particular path even if it no longer serves our best interests, simply because we have already invested time, effort, or resources into it. In the case of travellers who become bogged, they may feel compelled to press forward because they have already invested time and effort in reaching their desired destination despite the clear signs of danger.
A similar phenomenon is often observed in horror movies. The viewer is privy to dramatic music, lingering shadows, and the knowledge of impending danger yet, the characters, blissfully unaware, venture toward their demise without heeding the obvious warnings.
Why do we persist with endeavours, despite the presence of unmistakable signs? What shapes our ability to recognise the signs of danger ? When do we stop paying attention?
These questions have been addressed by experts. Ultimately, people’s biases regarding perceiving and receiving warning signs play a significant role in determining how, why, and when they take action. People tend to see what they want to see, evidenced by the controversies and disagreements that arise when supporters of opposing teams watch the same football match, viewing events differently depending upon who they barrack for.
During his ministry, Jesus was a highly divisive figure. While the civil and religious authorities viewed him as a troublemaker, especially in the wild and turbulent region of Galilee, the outsiders and the poor saw him differently.
Jesus consistently delivered a message of love and acceptance to the marginalised, the oppressed, the sick, and the homeless, telling them that God loves them as they are. By prioritising compassion and kindness over rigid adherence to old rules, Jesus challenged the religious authorities’ power. He formed friendships with outcasts, shared meals with the unclean, and defended the accused. The people on the edges adored him, while the powerful despised him.
Teaching in parables helped Jesus to elude serious charges from the authorities for a long time. These stories about farmers sowing grain, rebellious sons, kind foreigners, and a shepherd searching for a lost sheep allowed Jesus to convey his message figuratively in a way that frustrated the authorities’ attempts to pin him down. When asked about his use of parables, Jesus responded, “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ ” (Matthew 13:13). However, to his followers, Jesus would say, “Let anyone with ears, listen!” (Matthew 11:15).
The story of travellers getting stuck in the mud serves as a reminder of our inherent human flaws and the irrational decisions we sometimes make. It emphasises the importance of being mindful of warning signs and being willing to admit we got it wrong. In the gospel stories, it was the “tax-collectors and sinners” who were ready to admit they needed help. The good news is that they found the help they needed and it is never too late.
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister, Waranga Uniting Churches