Charles Darwin was riding a train coach and noticed a lady staring impassively out the window. Suddenly with no warning her face crumpled into an intense expression of grief, perhaps at a thought of something sad in her life, he speculated. I think of this sometimes, how we pass each other on the street, eat beside other in restaurants, go about our lives, only seeing the exterior that we present to the world.
Of course our literature is full of comment about how we are all separated from each other, unable to effectively communicate the panaroma within us all. I think that our opportunities to really get to know one another are limited, and that when we are able to communicate in ways beyond the superficial, we are often surprised at what we find in each other.
We more often than not find that there is gold within us all. When we dig down and get to really get to know somebody, we often find that underneath that outside mask is a warm, loving individual, full of doubts and fears, pain and hope…we find a person with whom we can forge empathetic bonds, a person whom we can grow to like and to even love.
I read a story once about a man facing the final judgment after his life was over. He was facing a group of judges who were once men and who had lived on earth before passing over that great divide. God was present, but only as an advocate for the accused. The final judgment as to the man’s fate rested solely upon the judges. All the man’s past sins were brought forth before the judges. It was shown how from an early age the man had lied and cheated. He grew into a thief and a murder. He became a despicable person full of sin and all sorts of vice of the lowest sort.
God told the judges about how he knew the motivations that drove the man. He talked about how he was born a sweet baby, full of the special goodness that all children have. He talked about how he was beaten by a drunken father, how he stole food in order to feed his mother and his many brothers and sisters. He told the judges how the man’s environment had twisted and changed him into what he was. He told all the man’s inner feelings and how at heart he was still good and true.
The judges took all that into account in their judgement, but in the end they condemned the man to Hell. They said that all men have their own peculiar motivations–both good and bad, but not all men act upon them. This man acted upon whatever it was that formed and made him, and that is what made the difference. This man had acted, and they were judging the man for his actions not his motivations. Hitler, I assume, was once a sweet child, full of dreams and aspirations as all children are. What were the factors in his environment, what were his motivations that turned him into a monster? To human judges that is all irrelevant. History judges him on his actions.
And so that I suppose is what we do in our lives. We usually have, unlike God, no idea as to a persons motivations, and so we usually are reduced to forming judgements and opinions concerning someone on their actions. When I see a person acting offensively, I form a reaction based on his actions without regard to what made him act in such a manner. That is all I can do with somebody whom I don’t know. I can make a mental note to be more understanding, but that understanding doesn’t always go very far when a person acts in such a way.
But what about a person whom you DO know very well…or think you do? What happens when such a person treats you with contempt, hurts you in mean sorts of ways, and in general seems to loathe the very ground you walk upon? How should you react when this happens?