An old Indian saying states, “I complained that I had no shoes and then I met a man with no feet.”
It’s so easy to complain and judge without knowing someone else’s reality, to feel sad and jealous about what we don’t have instead of noticing and feeling thankful for what we do have.
Last summer we attended a parade during “rodeo weekend” in small town Wisconsin. Our eight year old was so excited and exclaimed, “This is my first parade!” The reality is she has been in many parades, but this was the first she watched. It was exciting for all the kids, but especially this candy-lover, to watch the groups of people walking by and race to collect candy.
As we adults (there were six of us) sat in our lawn chairs and watched our kids run out to grab candy whenever it was thrown, we glanced at each other and whispered unkind comments about the grown man running out in front of the kids to grab candy, as if he was an undisciplined five year old with no one watching him. Here, my eleven year old and twelve year old daughters were patiently helping their siblings grab candy, not taking any for themselves, and even though I loathe bringing candy into our home, that wasn’t the point. The grown man grabbing candy like he was competing with children irked me. In fact, it irked us all.
What I’m sure went further to justify our guiltless comments and judgmental glances at each other was that he looked “normal.” In fact, he even looked better than normal. He was physically fit and boasted a military haircut. He didn’t say anything to defend his actions; although, I’m sure he knew we were talking about him.
When he walked behind our lawn chairs and gave the bucket of candy he raced to collect to a little girl (probably around nine years old) missing an arm, we all wished we had kept our mouths shut and helped him rather than assuming, being rude and judgmental. The silence was piercing and the shame is eternal.
The truth is we never really know what another person’s reality is . . . even though the man looked like a healthy adult male, it doesn’t mean we should have assumed he shares our cognition, emotional quotient, social education. Any of the reasons a grown man would run out and grab candy in front of children make it morally reprehensible to jump to judgments and conclusions, as if that man has been dealt the same exact hand in life as us and should play it the same way. That’s pretty much true of any experience with anyone anywhere.
There’s an ancient Indian parable about a group of blind men and an elephant. The blind men had no previous knowledge of or experience with elephants so the animal was unfamiliar to them. When they heard that an elephant was in the neighboring town, they were curious and went to examine the strange creature through touch. One blind man touched tail of the elephant and said, “Elephant is like a rope.” Another blind man touched the side of the elephant and said, “Elephant is like a wall.” Yet another blind man touched the trunk and exclaimed, “Oh, elephant is like a giant snake!” All three men were partially right and partially wrong. Each blind man had captured a piece of reality and projected the understanding of what they do know unto what they were experiencing.
As Christians, we are called to love without judgment and often to accept others’ realities as they see them. To be truly non-judgmental, we must humbly acknowledge that our own reality is subjective and limited, a small piece of something much larger.
I’m writing today to remind myself to stop before judging. It’s really, really hard. As a Christian, it’s easy to say, “I believe in Christ” but it’s much harder to PRACTICE Christianity. It’s hard to be the Samaritan that stops to care for his enemy rather than thinking, “I’m busy. I’ve helped enough. Someone else will stop.” But Jesus calls us to be the Samaritan. Every time. He says we are our brother’s keeper, even when our culture, nationality or society tells us that a brother with a different reality is the enemy.
One of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, said, “I would be a Christian if I ever met one.” And so, I’m trying. And I’m trying to teach the children we’ve been blessed with as parents. And it’s damn hard! But in the end, I know that practicing LOVE without judgment is all that really matters. I have no enemies, only brothers and sisters in Christ.