There is a woman I run across every so often in my neighborhood. We stop and chat and catch up a bit. She is the mother of a couple of kids who went to elementary school with my kids. More often than not when I see her lately and we talk about life she exclaims "You're so different now than you were back then!" I mean, she really goes on and on about it. It's annoying actually.
Welllll..... that was 16 or so years ago. So, ya, life happened and I grew in age and girth, and wisdom and experience. Along the way I came to realize that most of the challenges I faced when the kids were 6 - 10 years old were laughable compared to the ones they served up to me from 16 - 20. I used to fight every battle, then came to realize what "choose your battles" means and learned that I didn't have to die on every single hill and I could just let some stuff go. So, she's right. I am really different now than I was back then. But the context of what she is referring to isn't about those kind of changes. Her comment is about my core values... my convictions... my philosophies and my theology as she perceived them back then and perceives them to be now.
But those things about me are the things that haven't changed and remain.
She didn't really know me then. And she doesn't really know me now.
Today I was thinking about these encounters and how they make me feel misunderstood and kind of humiliated. This woman is not an anomaly though. I think this is most likely the norm in the majority of our relationships. I think this kind of thing is at the heart of a lot of our societal problems. We scrape off the top layer, the most dominant features of someone's personality or behaviors and decide that is the totality of who they are. We see and understand someone based on what we see in that moment. We give no consideration to their back story. We grab a few sound bites from conversations and reduce them to that one dimension of thinking. We see someone who appears strong but don't realize that it could just be a cover over a depth of pain and insecurity. And now days, if someone lets on which way they are going to vote and it's not "our" way then we can just neatly stick them in a category that completes the description of who they are and we can wrap it all up with some easy assumptions to fill in any blanks and we can say "oh ya, so-and-so? Ya, I know her".
But for the love of Pete, we aren't Flat Stanley! There is more to us than our front and our back. It takes more than a quick assessment of someone's bumper stickers to know them and understand them. If we really want to know someone we may need to ask more questions... questions that lead to listening and understanding, not to confrontation. One could ask "what is it about that candidate that you like and support?" instead of "how could you support someone like that?" Maybe we could ask something about their childhood that gives us an understanding about where they come from. Maybe we could ask what they wished they could go back and tell their 13 year old selves. Maybe the assumptions we make could give benefit to the other person instead of assuming the worst. Maybe we could give more grace.
So, at this point I ask myself... What if I try to catch myself when Im thinking about someone else and just remind myself that I really don't know them, their inner most thoughts, their fears and insecurities, their motivations or their hurts? What if I allowed some space for all of those unknowns and I hold off on making conclusions about them or how they think?
...and assume the best.
*and I think I'm going to ask that woman just what it is that she sees is so different about me now so I can set the record straight