We're all amateur psychologists. Who among us doesn't devote more time than we'd care to admit trying to figure out the true intentions of people in our lives? Devising strategies for making a better impression on others? Trying to figure out whether the saleswoman really thinks you look good in that shirt or simply says that to everyone because she works on commission?
In all these ways of analyzing our social universe, we typically prefer a simple narrative. We tend to reduce the actions of those around us to a straightforward X causes Y explanation. As spelled out in my new book, Situations Matter, one of our favorites is the often dubious assumption that other people's behavior reflects stable predisposition or personality type. How far do we take this belief? Far enough to do a double take when we see the actors who play enemies on TV laughing it up together on the red carpet, as if their fictional characters must somehow reflect kernels of their true selves. And to chuckle upon learning that in real life, MacGyver's just as dumbfounded as the rest of us when his car breaks down (seriously, check it out).
Which brings us back to Tebow. Because in case you haven't heard, these days all roads lead to Tim Tebow, the formerly third-string but now second-coming quarterback of the Denver Broncos. He's a dominant presence on sports TV, talk radio, and even youtube. And it is a remarkable story how the Broncos have gone from 1-4 before he came off the bench to 8-5 as of this week, with a series of consecutive last-minute wins.
But as with everyone else around us, with Tebow we're too wedded to the simple narrative that's been presented to us. Al Gore was smart, but a serial exaggerator; George W. Bush was a good guy, but not too bright. Newt Gingrich is sharp, but prickly; Mitt Romney is out-of-touch and inconsistent. And depending on your religious affiliation, Tim Tebow is either magic or miraculous–as in, the Lord giveth and the Lord pusheth Marion Barber out of bounds on 3rd down to stop the clock and give Denver one last possession.
I actually heard sports analysts describe the latest win over the Bears as transcending analysis, which is a bit like your financial advisor telling you your investment question transcends advice. But that's the storyline, and we're sticking to it.
Sure, the Broncos have had a heck of a run this past 6 weeks. But there isn't just one simple reason for their success at the end of these games. They have a great defense. They're running an unconventional offense that a lot of teams haven't adapted to yet and that seems to wear opponents down by the 4th quarter. There's luck too. Real life can be complicated that way.
Still, the Tebow as deity storyline sucks us in. Which explains why even a secular Jew like me is adding a few Hail Marys for him tonight. Hey, I'm a Jets fan, and Timmy's got the Patriots in town this Sunday.
Like this post? Interested in the book? Then check out the website for Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World (available now for pre-order). You can also follow Sam on Facebook here and on Twitter here. Book trailer video below: