“People aren’t out there with black hats and white hats. The world isn’t that simple.”
Try a little tenderness, maybe some benefit of the doubt.
Another person’s point of view, try to listen not to shout.
Hold your opinions loosely maybe you’re not always right.
Show a little mercy, and hold on to love real tight.
The bridge of Wild World by Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors is a good accompaniment for my thoughts as of late. We live in a wild world – messy and confusing. We cling harder and harder to our Christian beliefs, and rightly so. We are past being countercultural. Now our beliefs aren’t just countercultural- they are viewed as downright dangerous. So it’s natural for us to cling to our ship, put up our defenses, and reject the forces that threaten what is good, true and beautiful.
There is nothing wrong with this. But I have found that sometimes we forget that there aren’t simply ideologies walking around out there. There are people out there. People from various experiences with wounds and baggage.
Since I believe in objective truth – right and wrong – there’s a temptation to want to treat everything in black and white.
But people aren’t out there with black hats and white hats. The world isn’t that simple. We are all sinners, we are all wounded, and we all are seeking love. We have to help those who are seeking it in the wrong place to find it. But we have to remember that we have no idea what someone is dealing with, what is in their background, and how they are struggling.
The person who cuts you off in traffic, the rude clerk, the hateful coworker, your estranged family member, or the person on social media that stands for everything you reject… We don’t know what is happening inside of them nor the unseen wounds they carry.
Just stop to think of the wounds the people near us are walking around with now. The woman who was rude to your big family in the grocery store? Maybe she’s been on birth control since she was 12 and now has trouble conceiving. Nearly one in four women have had an abortion by the age of 45. How are the men and women with whom you work and live suffering from the effects of this? The average age of couples going through a divorce is 30 years old, and there is one divorce approximately every 36 seconds in the United States. Almost one-third of children live in single-parent homes. Imagine how this has affected the people you encounter.
How many priests have had bad seminary experiences? And yet we criticize when they falter and question their vocation. How many people have had terrible home lives? And we rush to judge millennials who seem to be scared of commitment or having children.
None of this is to excuse bad behavior or call wrong right. This isn’t a call to condone evil. But there’s a difference between judging an act to be evil or disordered and dealing with the person who committed the act.
Before I rush to judge a person, I must remember that I don’t know the wounds that person carries. Maybe that person stopped going to Mass because they have PTSD walking into a church after an incident of abuse. Maybe this person questions their own identity or worth because they have never known love.
I remember the first time I read what the Catechism had to say about “rash judgment.” Honestly, it terrified me, because I saw how short I fall of virtue every day.
“Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty…of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor” (CCC 2477).
It continues, with a powerful quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola: “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way. ‘Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved’” (CCC 2478).
We must give people the benefit of the doubt. We must work to believe the best about someone. It doesn’t mean being wishy-washy in terms of doctrine and the moral life. It doesn’t mean giving people a pass to do whatever they want, or not calling out error when we see it.
But we must do so in love, knowing that we don’t know their wounds and what is impacting their thoughts, words, or deeds. We are called to correct error – but with fraternal correction. Never forget that important adjective…fraternal, from the Latin word “brother.” We are called to instruct out of love. If we don’t have a relationship with the person, perhaps the first step is to get to know him or her.
It can be very comfortable to hunker down with our judgments and opinions. It can be dangerously easy to assume we are always taking the high road and thank God we are different from those around us. But since we don’t know what it’s like to walk with others’ wounds, perhaps we should remember (in the words of …Keith Urban?) “but for the grace of God, there go I” and to “show a little mercy and hold on to love real tight.”
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