October 11, 2015 — This meme runs periodically on Facebook. I almost always share it. Each time I get many “likes.” This meme is a good reminder of a basic principle most of us learned in the lower elementary grades.
The golden rule. Manners. Reap what ye sow. Never judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
It is the simplest of gifts we can give another person, yet we are so often reticent. Our noses stuck in our phones or our minds off planning the next task, we don’t always see what is directly in front of us. Or worse, we make an instant judgment about the worthiness of that person and move on.
Chief of sinners, though I be is the name of an old Lutheran hymn and it describes me on this account. I’m the one with the nose in the phone, on mental hi-jinks that have to do with tomorrow. And worse, I’m silently judging based on six decades of ingrained bias that I must constantly battle.
Why I post this meme over and over is that I’m working on it.
My mom — when she was healthy — was the kindest person. She had the most tender heart and saw life from the other person’s point of view. When she passed away in 2012, I decided to take something from her legacy. It’s a work in progress.
Recently my Jewish friends celebrated the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Meaning Day of Atonement, this holy day offers celebrants an opportunity to make amends to and for those they have wronged throughout the year.
According to Judaism 101: The name “Yom Kippur” means “Day of Atonement,” and the word atonement describes the holiday.
It is a day set aside to “afflict the soul,” to atone for the sins of the past year. In Days of Awe, I mentioned the “books” in which G-d inscribes all of our names. On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these books is sealed. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.
There are parallels in other faiths, such as the rite of Confession. As a Christian, I find the global nature of Yom Kippur amazing. Yom Kippur was observed long before the birth of Christ. Imagine on the day of Yom Kippur the collective energy of forgiveness and atonement.
My roundabout point, tying back to kindness is this, without an open heart that is free of vengeance, it is difficult to be truly kind. We cannot be kind to individuals we don’t even see or hear, or brush past.
When it is truly easier to be kind that not, why do we often jump to negative conclusions? In every situation, there may be someone who takes advantage. Is it my place to judge the person who stands at the same intersection day after day with an “I will work for food” sign?
I work in the mental health field. Often, we encounter individuals and family members on the worst days of their lives. I heard an executive from my firm once say, “Imagine what courage it takes to finally pick up the phone and ask for help.” Indeed.
With that thought in mind we come full circle back to the meme above. We cannot know what demons are battling within. Thoreau said and I quote it often, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Our society is filled with noise. We have more means of communication than any generation before us. It is often deafening. For today, listen to the person next to you and try a little kindness. Put the phone away, listen to the person speaking to you. Your tiny act of kindness may make a huge difference.