“You should never judge another person unless you first walk a mile in their shoes.”
These are words my grandmother used to say that we should try and live by - or; at least, they are the words that my mother would tell me that my grandmother used to say to her when she was growing up.
Regardless of who said what to who, I think they are pretty sound words to try and pattern one’s life after. I know I do … or at least I try to. Most often, however, I find that I fail miserably at it. Yet, I do not think that I am alone in my failing. In fact, I believe that if we were all truly honest with ourselves, we would all agree that we more often fail at this rule of life than we do at succeeding at it.
The reason is that judging is a part of our human nature – our DNA. For good or for ill, this is what we do. We are human, and we judge other humans. If you don’t think so, go onto Facebook at any time of day. Facebook often reflects our conscious judgments that we make, and often post, for the whole world to see. However, we are so much more than our conscious judgments. Our judgments are usually influenced and informed by our own upbringing and experiences, our histories and our parents and grandparents’ histories. Or, as the author Malcolm Gladwell puts it, “The giant computer that is our unconscious silently crunches all the data it can from the experiences we've had, the people we've met, the lessons we've learned, the books we've read, the movies we've seen, and so on, and it forms an opinion.”
These are our unconscious judgments – our unconscious and silent attitudes and implicit biases that we carry with us but have no conscious awareness of them. Yet, they inform how we look at each other and the world about us – how we look at persons of color, race or culture, immigrants, refugees – persons of another class status or political affiliation – persons of another gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation – and they often work to separate and divide us.
Our conscious judgments, and how they are informed by our unconscious attitudes and biases, have been on my mind much this past week, particularly as I have been pondering the Gospel lesson appointed for this upcoming Sunday – a lesson on the beatitudes – those nine blessings spoken by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (“blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the cheesemakers” [sorry, I had to throw this one in for Deacon Linda and any other Monty Python fans who might be out there!]).
As I read through Matthew 5:1-12, I came to realize that these “special blessings” that Jesus talks of, could and do, relate to anyone and everyone, regardless-and-in-spite-of their human condition. For who hasn’t at one point in our lives suffered poverty in our spiritual lives? Who hasn’t mourned the loss of a loved one or a relationship? Who hasn’t hungered or thirsted for the right thing to be done? Who hasn’t felt persecuted for their faith? Who hasn’t cried out for mercy and peace in their lives or their world?
Jesus carries none of the unconscious judgments, the unconscious biases that so often divide our hearts and ourselves from each other. The unconscious judgments that keep us from loving our neighbor and stranger alike, that keep us from being in communion and community with each other – and instead looks into each of us and sees that which unites us. As the theologian Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote, “For Jesus, there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved.” Love is Jesus’ own implicit bias – the lens through which he viewed the world.
My grandmother was an incredibly wise and faithful person; for she knew that if we only took the time to walk in each other’s shoes, to learn each other’s stories, to understand where we come from, to love each other as Christ loves us, then there would be no judgment keeping us apart.
In closing, I offer this prayer for each of us, a prayer that we always remember that we are more alike than different – more united that divided – regardless of the color of our skin, the language of our tongue, our gender, our orientation, our religion of choice or lack thereof, our documented or refugee status – that we are all, each and every one of us, beloved children of a Wondrous and Living God. All we have to do is look through Jesus’ lens of love, and walk in each other’s shoes. God bless.
The Reverend William Stanton
Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2005)
Henri Nouwen, Peacework: Prayer Resistance Community (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2005).