Whether you realize it or not, your house, car, and personal items may reveal much about you. Malcolm Gladwell writes, “Imagine that you are considering me for a job. You’ve seen my resume and think I have the necessary credentials. But you want to know whether I am a right fit or your organization. Am I a hard worker? Am I honest? Am I open to new ideas? In order to answer these questions about my personality, your boss gives you two options. The first is to meet with me twice a week for a year – to have lunch or dinner or go to a movie with me – to the point you become one of my close friends… The second option is to drop by my house when I am not there and spend half an hour or so looking around. Which would you choose?” (Malcolm Gladwell, Blink, p. 34). The writer suggests that the second option may be the better option.
Gladwell references an experiment by psychologist Samuel Gosling. Eighty college students were used as subjects in the experiment. First, close friends of each student answered a questionnaire rating their friend in five areas: 1. Extraversion. Are you sociable or retiring? Fun-loving or reserved? 2. Agreeableness. Are you trusting or suspicious? Helpful or uncooperative? 3. Conscientiousness. Are you organized or disorganized? Self-disciplined or weak-willed? 4. Emotional stability. Are you worried or calm? 5. Openness to new experiences. Are you imaginative or down-to-earth? Independent or conforming? Second, total strangers were given access to the student’s room, for fifteen minutes, and asked to complete the same questionnaire. Here are the results: The close friends did better in the first area, and slightly better in the second area; but the total strangers did better in the last three areas. “On balance, …the strangers ended up doing a much better job” (Gladwell, p. 36).
What information could be gathered from one’s dorm room? “Gosling says… that a person’s bedroom gives three kinds of clues to his or her personality. There are, first of all, identity claims, which are deliberate expressions about how we would like to be seen by the world: a framed copy of a magna cum laude degree from Harvard, for example. Then, there is behavioral residue, which is defined as the inadvertent clues we leave behind: dirty laundry on the floor, for instance, or an alphabetized CD collection. Finally, there are thoughts and feelings regulators, which are changes we make to our most personal spaces to affect the way we feel when we inhabit them: a scented candle in the corner, for example, or a pile of artfully placed decorative pillows on the bed… Just as important, though, is the information you don’t have when you look through someone’s belongings… Most of us have difficulty believing that a 275-pound football lineman could have a lively and discerning intellect. We just can’t get past the stereotype of the dumb jock. But if all we saw of that person was his bookshelf or the artwork on his walls, we wouldn’t have the same problem” (Gladwell, pp. 37-38).
Let’s make application. I am not concerned about what your personal space and possessions may indicate about your personality type; but I am concerned about what they may reveal about you (and me) spiritually. Does your space reveal that you study your Bible? Does your space reveal that you spend time in prayer (e.g. a prayer list)? Does your space indicate that you love the brethren (e.g. cards addressed to others to encourage them)? Does your space indicate worldliness? Does your space indicate moral impurity or questionable behavior?
Regardless of what may be visible to human eyes, let us remember that God knows us completely. David wrote, “O LORD, You have searched me and know me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it all together” (Psalm 139:1-4). Proverbs declares, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).