I love the innocent, unfiltered judgments of children. I remember one day in a parking lot, my little brother–maybe 5 at the time, saw a man smoking. “That man is smoking,” He stated very practically. “I’m going to go tell him to stop.” My siblings and I were already embarrassed because we were within hearing distance of the man, and we scrambled to dissuade my determined lil’ bro, even though his motives were spot on–to save the man from certain death by lung cancer.
As children we see the world in black and white, with everything in definite categories. Smoking is damaging to health, and therefore is “wrong.” As a child, I put it in the files of “wrong things to avoid” alongside cussing, getting tattoos, lying, talking in class, and using fabric shears on paper.
This type of thinking, however, is far less cute in adults. But if we don’t ever challenge our thinking, our adult reasoning can show up pretty much just as dichotomous. The danger of this way of thinking is that it turns humans, made in the image of the same God we’re created in the image of, into items, fitting either into the category of “good” or “bad.”
The woman who showed way too much skin in public? Bad. The friend who ghosted me? Bad. The driver who cut me off in traffic? Bad.
But what if we stopped to get curious? What if we asked ourselves “why?” regarding these instances? I listened to a podcast this week that encouraged me to grow more curious.
Why is that woman dressing so immodestly? Maybe she doesn’t realize what she’s doing. Maybe she thinks is the only way for her to get attention. Maybe she’s really hurting and looking to have some confidence in her body.
Why did that guy cut me off? Maybe he’s in a serious rush. Maybe his wife is in the hospital giving birth. Maybe he didn’t see me. Or, it’s true, maybe he just didn’t care.
You get the picture. But hold on for a moment; it gets way deeper.
We even do this to ourselves.
I spoke disrespectfully to my mom? Bad. I missed my alarm and got to work late? Bad. I feel emotions I don’t want to feel? Bad.
Not only are we quick to judge others, we are so quick to shame ourselves! But even here we can get curious, in order to give ourselves some grace. Have I been getting enough sleep? Have I suffered a loss or injustice that is creating these emotions? Have I said yes to too many commitments? Have I treated myself with the worth I deserve?
Stopping to get curious is such a healthy way to learn to offer grace and empathy to others–and ourselves. We don’t do things without reason. And very few of us are doing “bad” things with evil intent. This doesn’t excuse the actions, but it can help us see people in a more accurate light: hurting people screwing up life, all in need of God’s grace.
And the good news is that God does offer that grace!
No, I still don’t approve of smoking. And I still would stop a child from insulting a smoker, given the chance. However, when I take a moment to get curious–to recognize that this man didn’t make the choice to smoke simply because he is a “bad” man, following through by making “bad” choices–I’m more likely to live my life with a sense of compassion.
And that’s where I want to be.
Will you get curious with me? About others? About yourself?
I’d love to hear from you; comment below.