So there we were, sitting outside the ice cream place, slurping happily on generously scooped waffle cones – she a maple walnut, he a peanut butter chocolate – when our enjoyment was interrupted by a guy with bad teeth asking for some change. I reflexively lied that I couldn’t help him but I said ‘Sorry’ so that made me feel better …
… For about a second-and-a-half until a pang of guilt flashed through me. I knew I had some change, including a loonie, a toonie* and a $5 bill in my pocket. Was a couple of dollars really that big a deal? I mean, here my wife and I sat eating more than $12 worth of melting dairy product and I couldn’t dig down and find a toonie?
I justified to myself that I wasn’t judging him: I just didn’t want to be inconvenienced at that moment, or taken advantage of by a professional beggar, or I didn’t want to feed his habit.
But it didn’t work; I knew better. I was acting spoiled and small. We are among those who are at the very sharpest top point of the world’s wealth pyramid. We have WAY more money and possessions than I can even pretend I have earned or deserve.
That’s when the second guy appeared. Oh man … I thought I had gotten away with just feeling guilty but now I was faced with another chance. This man was in worse shape than the first with dirty sweat pants and t-shirt and two fresh, raw scrapes on the left side of his face that looked like road rash from a fall. He didn’t seem to notice the rivulet of blood dried down the side of his face as much as I did.
He got some money.
Recently I’ve been thinking about judging and how I do it in much too easily in far too many circumstances.
In my defence, I have been generous to people most of my life. Our children learned in our home about generosity and acceptance of those who have less or who are outside our circles. They learned well: Craig currently works with the homeless and Tracy is a counsellor.
Nevertheless there I was, guarding small pieces of money that I would never notice missing no matter how I spent it.
You’d think I would know better at this stage in my life (the wise and mature stage in case you were wondering). But sure enough, there I was on another day judging one of those memes on social media. It was a conservative rant that made perfect sense to the originator but produced raw frustration in me. It literally made no sense to me how they could say what they did without realizing it was badly premised / ignorant / blind / unhelpful.
I didn’t respond because these days I am reacting less to stupidity … oops, there I go again … I mean, I am reacting less to opinions that are not like my own. Keeping your opinions to yourself is not an easy thing in today’s world of conflicting extremism.
I think it was that Jesus guy who said, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?“ (Matt 7:1-3 NLT)
See, Jesus isn’t just telling us we’ll be safer from criticism if we don’t judge other people. He’s going past that and saying that we shouldn’t judge because we all judge with our own biased ‘standards’. Our standards are imperfect – we can’t even see clearly past ourselves so why criticize or measure others?
Isn’t that true? If a person is homeless or addicted or unwise or dangerous or anything else, how do I know how they got there? How can I judge without understanding their genetics or knowing the dynamics of their upbringing, their traumas or the various experiences that formed them? How can I understand their influences when I barely understand my own?
If only I could allow that others are the way they are because of their root system, not mine; their experiences, not mine. And when I say “Why don’t they just ______?” or “She needs to ______” or “If that was me I would _______” we are 100% projecting ourselves onto a completely different person. Just because I can make up my mind to do ‘X’ doesn’t mean that another person has the same knowledge, experiences or emotional resources.
When I judge or argue I am working from my own biased information bank rather than anything objective or kind. Or to put it differently, what should it look like for me to love this person as Jesus has loved me? Will judgement, argument, gossip or insult make the situation better? No. Will those actions help them or influence them? The answer is still no.
So when I judge, what is my true purpose; my true idol?
I couldn’t be sure where it came from but I recalled a saying about not judging someone until you had walked a mile in their moccasins. So I Googled it.
Turns out the phrase originated with someone named Mary T. Lathrap (1838-95) who was a social activist, Methodist-Episcopal minister, temperance reformer and early organizer of the women’s equality movement in Michigan. Mary was obviously a unique, strong, progressive woman!
She was also a poet, and she wrote a poem that came to be known as “Walk a Mile In His Moccasins” because of that memorable phrase. Please take the less-than-two-minutes it takes to read it.
However I prefer its gentler original title, “Judge Softly”.
Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps,
Or stumbles along the road.
Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.
There may be tears in his soles that hurt
Though hidden away from view.
The burden he bears placed on your back
May cause you to stumble and fall, too.
Don’t sneer at the man who is down today
Unless you have felt the same blow
That caused his fall or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, unknown to you in the same way,
May cause you to stagger and fall, too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins.
Or pelt him with words, or stone, or disdain.
Unless you are sure you have no sins of your own,
And it’s only wisdom and love that your heart contains.
For you know if the tempter’s voice
Should whisper as soft to you,
As it did to him when he went astray,
It might cause you to falter, too.
Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse.
If just for one hour, you could find a way
To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind and narrow-minded, even unkind.
There are people on reservations and in the ghettos
Who have so little hope, and too much worry on their minds.
Brother, there but for the grace of God go you and I.
Just for a moment, slip into his mind and traditions
And see the world through his spirit and eyes
Before you cast a stone or falsely judge his conditions.
Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins
And remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave
In other people’s lives, our kindnesses and generosity.
Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.”
– Mary T. Lathrap, 1895
* For our non-Canadian friends, a loonie is a $1 coin and a toonie is a $2 coin)