There's a photo circulating on Facebook of a super-cute, fluff-ball of a kitten who thinks his name is "Aww..." because that's what everyone says when they see him. Very few can resist having a softhearted reaction to a kitten. And what about a newborn baby or adorable toddler? It comes quite easily doesn't it? So why is it often challenging to have this same gentle reaction towards everyone we cross paths with? Oh yeah, that's right. We're not all cute little things, are we? We sometimes have our off moments and can be downright annoying. So when that happens, instead of going "aww..." we're wondering why in the world did he or she say that? Or what's their problem anyway?
It's so human to misjudge or misread someone. Wouldn't it be remarkable if we could read hearts like Jesus did as the Son of Man on this earth? Things would be decidedly simpler. But since that's impossible, the next best thing is to sympathetically assume he or she has a reason for getting up on the wrong side of the bed or falling short of our expectations of them. The underlying motives for people's actions are not always bad, for the most part, they are completely understandable.
In her fascinating book My Stroke of Insight, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, an advanced brain scientist, speaks of the relevance and necessity of being sensitive to the plight of others. She describes suffering a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Losing her left brain consciousness and functions caused her to fall out of sync with the external word. But Jill retained right brain consciousness allowing her to continue processing information as a scientist. Within a few hours, she observed her mind deteriorating to the point she could no longer walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her past life, including family or friends. Ten years later, after her long recovery, she documented her experience in her book.
It was easy to judge Dr. Taylor as less than what she had been before because she could no longer function like a normal person. Even though everyone was a stranger to her, she could read volumes from facial expression and body language. Hospitalized immediately after the stroke, she felt safe with some medical staff and unsafe with others. One staff member, oblivious to her needs, spoke loudly to her as if she were deaf. Others were impatient, brusque and abrupt in handling her.
Yet she remembers another's eyes were soft and kind as she reassuringly touched her foot, then her shoulder and came close to her face so she could hear as she spoke softly. Dr. Taylor says, "Although I could not completely understand her words, I completely understood her intention."
She describes how, as she lay on a hospital bed unable to speak, she perceived sounds, touch, light--any incoming stimulation--as highly discordant and unbearably painful. Vulnerable and confused, Jill recalls desperately wanting to tell those around her: "... Bring me your gentle spirit.... Be kind to me. Be a safe place for me...."
Her mother arrived on day three after the stroke. Of course, Dr. Taylor didn't recognize her when she walked into the room. But her mom went straight to her bedside, lifted the covers and crawled into bed with her. Jill explains how her mom "....immediately wrapped me up in her arms.... I felt perfectly content all wrapped up in my mother's love. She was kind and soft and obviously freaking out a little, but overall, I thought she was nice and I liked her." Her mother understood exactly what she needed--tender loving care in the wake of a life-changing calamity.
We usually have no idea what difficulties or life lessons the person standing next to us may be experiencing. So assume for the moment there are valid reasons for their conduct, rather than superficially judging and reacting negatively. This gives us time to mellow out, allowing for a more gentle response on our part and the opportunity to reflect the graciousness and tender mercies of Jesus.
Quoting Maya Angelou, beloved and celebrated poet and author: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."