Us and Them?
I was in the checkout line this week behind a Hispanic family; a mom and three children. Two of the kids were hanging with mom while one was at a bargain bin admiring a bracelet with glass beads. The mother finished checking out, gathered her things and headed for the door. The problem is she forgot a child, the one admiring the bracelet. The cashier caught my eye and said; “You can come up now.” I smiled, gesturing to the girl and quipped; “I don’t think she’s ready.” “Oh. They do that all the time! Forget their children and leave the store. Come on up.” I wasn’t going to push the girl out of the way and so asked her; “Where’s your mom? Did she just go out the doors?” The little one stared at me and I’m not sure she understood what I was saying or was intimidated by a stranger. She moved and I kept my eye on the door while the cashier scanned my items. She continued to insult the mom and lumped all Hispanics together with condescending phrases; “They all do that, don’t care about their children. When I was growing up my mother would’ve never left me. She always knew where we were but they don’t care.” I finished checking out, retrieved my bag and headed out the door. I was annoyed and concerned.
When I got outside I scanned the parking lot for the mom and sure enough, she realized her child was missing and was heading back to the store. My worry dissipated. My annoyance at the cashier persists now as I am writing about it. I don’t understand how a person can casually dismiss an entire race of people. This child with the bracelet, this mom with her hands full, didn’t need judgment. They needed understanding instead of insults, someone to help the mom not forget her most precious cargo. Moms of all races have their hands full. Moms forget. Moms of all nationalities are burdened with remembering all kinds of things and if they are new to the United States of America there’s more she and her family has to deal with in a nation where a growing section of the community is hostile to them.
Instead of a fist offer a hand. Instead of a look of contempt offer empathy. Instead of judgment offer humanity.
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Not Open –
This morning, I put on a shirt I had never worn before. Buttoning up the front I then went to button the cuffs. The first one was no problem but the second one was hard to get the button through. After several attempts, I finally looked to see what the problem was and to my surprise, the hole for the button on the cuff was sewn shut. It had never been cut open so the button couldn’t go through it. I didn’t have time to look for scissors so I simply rolled up my sleeves.
Yesterday, in a “how to communicate” lecture, one of the men in our Incarcerated Father group raised his hand and was busting at the seams to say something. I looked at him, smiled and said; “Yes sir?” “You don’t know the women we hang around! These communication skills won’t work with them, they’re crazy!” he blurted out. The class laughed and most agreed. When they settled down we spent a few moments going through a few alternatives forms of communicating that might be better-suited for the men and women who make up their family and friends.
“However, in the end,’ I said, ‘sometimes you need to know when to walk away. If they aren’t receptive to your desire not to argue, fuss and fight, then ending the conversation before the mayhem begins is your best option.'”
Sometimes, the way through the drama, aggression, judgement isn’t open at this point and time. If you can’t get through it, it’s best to leave it be and try again another day.
I was speaking with a friend this week who’s struggling with three things; judgmental thoughts, judgmental words and judgmental actions. The latter follow the first and are causing difficulties with people he holds dear. “I don’t want to speak harshly and condemningly to those I love but I can’t seem to stop the thoughts from expressing themselves.” He sighed. “What if your thoughts weren’t real?” I asked him. “What if your thoughts were just clouds of words floating through your mind and have no substance? What if they didn’t define your reality and only became form and influence when you plucked them out of the sky of your mind and made them into tangible words or actions?” While he considered this I quoted to him one of my favorite wisdom sayings from Aristotle; “The mark of a wise mind is the ability to think a thought without believing it to be true.”
When we judge others, even only in our minds, we are forcing our limited understanding of what’s real, normal, acceptable onto their limited understanding of the same. When we label someone as lacking we’ve actually judged ourselves. We show our minds, emotions and wisdom to be lacking.
Thoughts are meant to be considered, reflected upon, examined in broad and focused ways. We are to seek to understand and then be understood. When judgement fills our minds, hearts and spirits there’s no more room for wisdom, compassion, relationship.
He sat a few feet from me and I watched as tears began to fill his eyes. It dawned on him, perhaps for the first time, the sum of his actions, words, thoughts and the effect they had upon his family. He had been so wrapped up in trying to control situations and people that he didn’t realize how many things had slipped from his grasp. Now, in a time of crisis and questioning, of rejection and regret he understood. Silence filled the space between us and I waited as he composed himself enough to speak. Until this point disappointments, difficulties and despair had been things which were outside of him, people and events were to blame. Now, he realized he was the designer of his own defeat, a victim of his own ego and self obsession.
It’s never easy to achieve and sustain self-awareness. There are moments when we see ourselves for who we really are; the weakness, selfishness and shallowness. The cold reality sets in and we often reach for the blanket of judgement and justification to stave off the chill. To recognize our real selves, to accept the imperfections, insecurities and insatiable desire to control, coerce and craft others and the world in our image is the most humbling and hurtful lesson to learn.
When we arrive at this place of suffering do we choose to find relief by reconstructing the illusion or embrace the brokenness as healing?
I had breakfast with a friend this morning and the conversation shifted to difficult people who inhabit our lives. We both agreed that some of the most contentious, complicated and frustrating folks are those who are focused on others and not self aware enough to discover and admit their own problems. They talk about others as a way of avoiding their own inner journey. They cause problems by gossiping, outright lying, attempting to control others or try to destroy another’s life or livelihood through nefarious means.
Each of us have people in our lives who are either unwilling or unable to truly see themselves. Looking deep within ourselves, coming to grips with our egos, biases, ugliness and evil takes courage. It is a path that can only be traveled through humility and honesty. It’s easier to look at everyone else, every day, for all our lives, than to see who we really are even for a moment.
“The teacher appeared again and the people gathered around him as he sat down to teach them. The educated ones brought in a woman caught having sex with a man not her husband. They humiliated her by making her stand before everyone. They said to the teacher, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. We’ve been taught to stone such women! What do you say?” The teacher knelt in the dirt and began writing on the ground with his finger. After a moment he looked up and said; “If any of you are without sin throw the first stone, then the rest can join in.” The teacher looked down again. Silently the accusers began to slowly walk away, one at a time, until only the teacher and the woman were left. He stood up and asked, “Where are your accusers? Is there no one left to throw even one stone at you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Neither will I.” he said. “Go now and live a life worthy of being saved.” The Gospel of Saint John, chapter 8
We throw stones because people watch the stone instead of the one who threw it. When we become aware of our own sin, weaknesses, habits and hangups, we’ll be unable to judge others because we’re able to truly see ourselves.