I remember the story of a pastor who was annoyed by a “parishioner Joe” sleeping during his carefully crafted sermon ….. ”that is so rude, not even trying to pay attention, I can’t believe it…..”. After Mass, Joe came up to him and said,” I’m so sorry I was dozing off in church…I’m in the middle of chemotherapy treatments and I’m just exhausted.” The pastor was mortified.
“The admonition to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes means before judging someone, you must understand his experiences, challenges, thought processes, ….. in effect, it’s a reminder to practice empathy.” Well, we often don’t have the time or information or wisdom to understand all the background in someone’s behavior. So, what are we to do?
Glancing thru an article, “Mixed Signals: Why People Misunderstand Each Other“ by Emily Smith, it’s mentioned that our facial expressions are often not reliable, i.e.
- our ‘active-listening face’ can look a lot like our ‘angry face’ ….. hmmmm.
- ‘He stares at his plate at dinner while she’s telling a story and she assumes he doesn’t care about what she’s saying, when really he is admiring the beautiful meal she made.’……yikes.
- I’m kind of ‘hurt by what you just said face’ probably looks an awful lot like your ‘I’m not at all hurt by what you just said face’……woe.
- Smith mentions that most people suffer from what psychologists call “the transparency illusion”—the belief that what they feel, desire, and intend is crystal clear to others, even though they have done very little to communicate clearly what is going on inside their minds…..hey, you talkin to me.
Because of all this and more, when we’re dealing with one another our default position should be mercy. Jesus tells us to “be merciful just as your father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven… the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:36-38)
When we see someone exhibiting a seemingly bad behavior, we should give the person the “benefit of the doubt…. assume the best as opposed to assuming the worst. Maybe the guy had a bad day, just heard some tough news, is suffering from cancer, or ate some bad food. We certainly appreciate this type of response when we’re acting a bit “off our game”.
I know this can sound pretty obvious and pretty simple, but it’s often not either. It can be difficult to respond this way. Sometimes we are judging accurately and the person is acting poorly. Regardless, our response should be to pray for the person, try to understand why they might be acting poorly, give them the benefit of the doubt.
If nothing else, we’ll be building up some “credit” for the next time we do something and are brought before judgement. Remember, “the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”(Luke 6:38) And that is very good news.