Over the Christmas holidays, I received a text message from someone who had, in her words, “the most god-awful, horrible day.” Kyra* had listened to older family members gossip about and berate a younger cousin. Michelle*, who was not in their presence or even aware of her relatives’ words, was reportedly engaging in risky behaviour that most of the family believed was immoral and beneath her. Understandably, Kyra could not believe everything she was hearing. She tried in vain to defend Michelle and redirect the conversation, as well as explain that there were – in her worldview – no moral problems with her actions.
I told Kyra that I could not condone what Michelle was doing…but that her behaviour did not mean that she should be called names unfit for a dog to hear. In no way did she deserve the treatment she was receiving. My dismay quickly turned to surprise when Kyra told me “Of course. I know we disagree about the way she’s acting, but I know you don’t believe she is less of a person.”
Could Kyra really see that? We’ve known each other for years, and we’re very close. We know almost everything about each other, and we’re usually the first to rescue one another from some sticky situation. Knowing a person’s heart, however, usually means acknowledging their imperfections as well.
I’ve had my fair share of moments where I label someone and, as the line commonly attributed to Soren Kierkegaard says, negate them. There are times when I believe – even for half a second – that my avoiding a course of action that someone else has not makes me a better and more righteous human being…someone more deserving of approval and love. Even if their behaviour is truly and objectively wrong, why aren’t my first thoughts filled with hope and compassion?
Recently, I’ve been able to catch myself failing to recognize the spark of goodness hidden in people around me. I can be a little scrupulous – asking for a changed heart and then beating myself up for having to ask. Yet I am grateful for these opportunities to grow and examine my progress.
I challenge you, readers, to reflect on the smallest ways you love – or loathe – those around you. They don’t have to be in Michelle’s shoes. What about the woman in front of you in the grocery line who takes an eternity to bag her purchases, or that young guy who listens to his heavy metal a little too loudly on the bus to work? How about the great-aunt who tells the same story twenty times at every family get-together? Can you see the dignity they possess? Can others notice that you see it…or are some people too real, too close, too flawed and human?
*Names have been changed.