Grace has written another wonderful article that hits you right in that soft, sensitive spot of pride. Ouch. But it does give me pause to finally write about a topic that’s been on my list for a while now and that I just haven’t quite found time to talk about yet. So, before I get started, go read what grace has to say (and comment if you feel led to do so) and then come back and we’ll chat a bit further on the subject.
Go on, go. I’ll wait right here. Go, now, I mean it!
Done? Wonderful. Now here’s my two bits on the topic:
It is impossible to judge a man until you’ve walked in his shoes for a while. This is a phrase that we are probably all familiar with, yet it is also one that most of us conveniently forget. We forget that the reasons for an individual’s actions are usually multifaceted and complex. It is only in understanding the _person_ that we are able to understand his _actions_. Orson Scott Card points to this complicated interpersonal relationship in his _Ender_ series, where the brilliant Ender Wiggin must defeat his enemies by understanding them so thoroughly he is able to predict what they will do and why. In so doing, however, Ender also comes to love the very enemy he destroys because he knows and sees them as they see themselves.
Most of us are oh so quick to pass judgment on another. We see the way a person dresses, the way they speak, the way they act and behave, and we pass judgment on them, particularly if we disapprove. The individual never gets a chance to prove the reasons for his actions because we have already decided for ourselves that they are not worth more than the dirt on the bottom of our shoes.
There are two similar but subtly nuanced ways in which we judge an individual. First, we cannot judge what a person is _made_ of until we have walked in their shoes. To put it a different way, we can’t know what drives them, what motivates them, what inspires them to do certain things or act in certain ways, until we have spent some time trying to understand what their needs are, what dreams they hold and have, what ideals are important enough to them to shape their behavior. We tend to assume that everyone else is like us, that they have the same values we do, that they think and believe the same way we do. We project our own personality traits onto these other people and then expect them to act and behave the same way we would, and when they don’t, then we criticize and condemn them and push them in a category that we consider to be the Untouchables. Yet, when we are (rarely) faced with the opportunity to learn the _true_ motives behind an individual’s actions and discover that they are driven by, say, desperation, for example, we are ashamed of rushing into judgment and feel guilty for not considering other alternatives for this person’s behavior.
The other way in which we judge was hinted at in the previous paragraph. We cannot pass judgment on an individual until we truly know and understand the _why_ of their actions. Now, we are all aware that we should not judge, yet we still do so. It’s part of our fallen nature, I think, to pass judgment on another, rather than simply seeing them as a fellow human being. The interesting thing about learning what a person is _really_ about is that it usually forces us to revise our judgment of them. We have categorized them as Untouchable, as someone to be shunned because they did or said something that we consider shameful. It’s not fair because we would be terribly upset if someone were to do the same to us, yet we find ourselves falling into that trap all too easily. But when we find out _why_ the individual in question did something, we realize that we might just as easily have acted in the exact same manner for the exact same reasons. We find that our judgment was unjust and unfair, and we (hopefully) begin to view this person in a new light – with compassion, mercy, and grace.
We cannot judge what a person is made of or judge the justness of their behavior until we have walked a day (or more) in their shoes, until we have seen the world as they see it, through their eyes, through their need, through their desperation. We would want others to take the time to try to understand the motives behind our own actions. Why, then, can we not extend the same courtesy to others, no matter how Untouchable we may _feel_ they are?