The other day at work when I was hot, tired and in need of a break I gladly passed off a task to a lower level employee who in turn muttered that my actions (or perhaps lack thereof!) was because of “laziness” on my part. I recount this not because the estimation of this co-worker matters to me—I care more about Kim Kardashian’s choice of wardrobe than this person’s opinion—but because it seems to speak to a larger culture I’ve seen a play for some time. It speaks of an attitude where those in power and authority get to throw out labels like “lazy,” “apathetic,” or “stupid.” It’s frustrated me for some time, having words like that carelessly thrown about in the direction of myself or others.
Recently I was reading from the book Fully Awake and Truly Alive, a book on spiritual practices by Reverend Jane Vennard. In a section on humility—certainly something we all could use a little more of (myself included)—Vennard mentioned that spiritual growth is accepting our own limitations and the limitations of those around us. She writes that “when we encounter limitations in others, we are tempted to judge and to blame.” It’s just so easy to do, to hold someone to our own set of standards or guidelines. Now I’d be untruthful if I claimed innocence, but as someone who has also been on the receiving end of judgment (and often powerless to do anything about it), I can attest to how unhealthy and unconstructive such labels are.
Implied within Vennard’s thoughts is that we are mistaken when we assume our norms are universal for everyone. Perhaps I was being “lazy” in the mind of my co-worker, yet I doubt he was aware of how hard I had been working, how I was tired at the end of a long week, how I go home and run a few miles after work, how I come home to take care of my young child and try to keep the house from looking like a nuclear waste dump… He may think I’m lazy, but I bet he didn’t have to change diapers and do laundry the night before. That’s the problem with assuming our standards should be the norm for everyone else.
To counter this temptation, Vennard recommends that we take the wider view and let go of judgment and blame. She understands this to be an important part of humility—being unwilling to look down on anyone else. If I’m truly humble, can I really assume I’m better than everyone else? Further, she asserts that beyond letting go of the judgment and blame we should instead trust one another. “Can we trust that others are doing the best they can at the moment?” she asks. That means letting go of the judgment and mistrust and rather giving one another the benefit of the doubt—simply giving others the benefit of the doubt we would want others to give us. After all, most of the time I would say I am doing the best I can at the moment based on the circumstances. Can we assume the same for others? So can we be as gracious with others as we are with ourselves? Can we recognize there are circumstances beyond our knowledge at work in their own lives, just as there is in ours?
Rather than throwing out hurtful and judgmental labels, let us be gracious and generous with one another. Let’s be humble and caring, understanding our own ways might be best for ourselves—but not everyone else. Let’s trust that others are doing the best they can at the moment. After all, that’s really all anyone can ask for isn’t it?