Don't judge anyone; unless you are looking for an opportunity to regret
I have to admit that God is very patient. I'm not saying this because today is Sunday and my pastor maybe reading this paper, but I say this because I think human beings are very complex beings; hard to please, impossible to understand and sometimes ridiculously inhuman! But despite all these weaknesses (and more) He still loves us unconditionally, gives us opportunities daily to change our ways and when we don't, He still finds ways of bringing us back on track.
How I wish we were like Him! Then we would not spend so much time hurting each other, pulling each other down instead of building each other, taking each other for granted instead of spending time loving and appreciating each other while we are still alive, and the best part, we wouldn't judge each other based on how we look.
I experienced "judgement" a few days ago when I walked into a certain bank in Nairobi. I'd had a very frustrating day to say the least, the icing on the cake being when my ATM card was held by the machine. This meant I had to look for the nearest open branch before it closed because I didn't even have a single coin on me; not even for bus fare. The only branch open was in the up-market part of Nairobi, meaning most of the guys who go there live in houses and drive cars I only see on MTV. I clearly did not fit the bill especially considering I was dressed in a not up-market manner and as a result, though I was the last customer in the banking hall, actually the only customer, the lady who was meant to serve me wasn't so enthusiastic about it; until she got a call from her boss telling her to treat me with courtesy. The rest as they say is history.
This incident reminded me yet of another story I read many years ago on the Internet. It is a story about a boy who was brought up by his one-eyed mother; the boy himself narrates the story and I've shared it unedited....
My mom only had one eye. I hated her... she was such an embarrassment. She ran a small shop at a flea market, and also collected little weeds and such to sell... anything for the money we needed; she was such an embarrassment.
There was this one day during elementary school. I remember that it was field day, and my mom came. I was so embarrassed. How could she do this to me? I threw her a hateful look and ran out. The next day at school..."Your mom only has one eye?!" and they taunted me.
I wished that my mom would just disappear from this world so I said to my mom, "Mom, why don't you have the other eye?! You're only going to make me a laughingstock. Why don't you just die?" My mom did not respond. I guess I felt a little bad, but at the same time, it felt good to think that I had said what I'd wanted to say all this time.
Maybe it was because my mom hadn't punished me, but I didn't think that I had hurt her feelings very badly.
That night...I woke up, and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. My mom was crying there, so quietly, as if she was afraid that she might wake me. I took a look at her, and then turned away. Because of the thing I had said to her earlier, there was something pinching at me in the corner of my heart. Even so, I hated my mother who was crying out of her one eye. So I told myself that I would grow up and become successful, because I hated my one-eyed mom and our desperate poverty.
Then I studied really hard. I left my mother and came to Seoul and studied, and got accepted in the Seoul University with all the confidence I had. Then, I got married. I bought a house of my own. Then I had kids, too. Now I'm living happily as a successful man. I like it here because it's a place that doesn't remind me of my mom. This happiness was getting bigger and bigger, when someone unexpected came to see me "What?! Who's this?!" ...It was my mother...Still with her one eye. It felt as if the whole sky was falling apart on me. My little girl ran away, scared of my mom's eye.
And I asked her, "Who are you? I don't know you!!!" as if I tried to make that real. I screamed at her "How dare you come to my house and scare my daughter! GET OUT OF HERE! NOW!!!" And to this, my mother quietly answered, "oh, I'm so sorry. I may have gotten the wrong address," and she disappeared. Thank good ness... she doesn't recognize me. I was quite relieved. I told myself that I wasn't going to care, or think about this for the rest of my life.
Then a wave of relief came upon me...one day, a letter regarding a school reunion came to my house. I lied to my wife saying that I was going on a business trip. After the reunion, I went down to the old shack, that I used to call home...just out of curiosity. There, I found my mother fallen on the cold ground, dead. But I did not shed a single tear.
She had a piece of paper in her hand.... it was a letter to me. She wrote:
I think my life has been long enough now. And... I won't visit Seoul anymore... but would it be too much to ask if I wanted you to come visit me once in a while? I miss you so much. And I was so glad when I heard you were coming for the reunion. But I decided not to go to the school.... For you... I'm sorry that I only have one eye, and I was an embarrassment for you. You see, when you were very little, you got into an accident, and lost your eye. As a mother, I couldn't stand watching you having to grow up with only one eye... so I gave you mine...I was so proud of my son that was seeing a whole new world for me, in my place, with that eye. I was never upset at you for anything you did. The couple times that you were angry with me. I thought to myself, 'it's because he loves me.' I miss the times when you were still young around me. I miss you so much. I love you. You mean the world to me.
My world shattered!!! Then I cried for the person who lived for me... MY MOTHER
I've read this story several times but it still saddens my heart when I imagine what that woman must have felt after being treated so badly by her son. On the other hand I can't help but wonder, would the son have treated her differently if he had known the reason behind her having only one eye? I guess we will never know the answer, but my guess is that he would have treated her much better. As he says in the last line of his story, he was left weeping for the woman he had mistreated all his life. I can't begin to imagine the weight this left in his heart. I hope he was able to forgive himself and move on.
So, the next time you are tempted to judge someone and treat them different because they don't look like they fit the bill, remember the words of Steve Maraboli derived from his book, "Life, the Truth, and Being Free": "How would your life be different if you stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day you look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.”
My parting shot this week is this: before you judge someone's life, their past or character, attempt to walk in their shoes, walk the path they have traveled, live their sorrow, carry their doubts, fears, pains and uncertainties. Always remember everyone has a story to tell, some tougher than others. Let's appreciate each other as we are. Let's build a culture of uplifting each other and not discouraging each other. Let's learn to think before we speak or act, to avoid wounding and hurting hearts around us.
Have a less judgemental and a more appreciative week.
PS: Article published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 14th July, 2013, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words"