Tuesday Talk at the Chapel
November 29, 2011
If I could change one thing about …
the way we determine who has something to offer, who is worthy of being visible to us in our lives, I would sprinkle some enlightenment throughout the universe that would move us toward rethinking the checklist or the metrics that shape our view of who is important to know, who is worthy of our graciousness and kindness, who we can learn from, who is deserving of opportunity, who is smart, and who has potential.
How limiting it is for me to value you on the basis of what you wear, or your academic pedigree, or the neighborhood you are from or in, the country of your birth or ancestry, the language you speak or the accent of your words, the job your parents have or the job you have… how limiting it is to deem you worthy of my attention because of the color of your skin or your eyes or your hair, because of your religious affiliation, because of whom you love.
If I choose not to see you because of what I cannot see, what opportunities might I miss? If I dismiss you as irrelevant, or at least non-essential, since you and my checklist appear incongruous, might there be some insight, some enriching experience, some priceless encounter just beyond my grasp?
Now, I am not suggesting that it’s wrong to have standards. My standards help me makes sense of how I am doing in my world; they are related to my values. Sometimes, though, standards can get in the way of forward movement; they can get in the way of openness to exploration and discovery; they can get in the way of just being in the moment. Measuring others, their value or whether they have something to offer, by the standard I’ve invented for myself may just block my blessings.
Judging another by my standards can undermine rather than support the other’s productivity. It then becomes about my agenda, my biases, and does not necessarily reflect the capacity of the other; it does, however, emphasize my limitations.
What might happen if instead of the negative judgment, I could be more open to the perspective, the style, the way of being of the other person? If I really listened to a fresh voice? Perhaps, I would learn something new, or make space for possibilities- even miracles; perhaps, I would provide an opportunity for a mutually beneficial or life enhancing interaction; perhaps with respect instead of judgment, I open the door for the other person to make a contribution or realize that which is great within herself/himself.
If I measure your worth by my checklist, I may miss your beauty, your unique gifts, your gentle spirit, the benefit of knowing the person you will become; I may miss a world of possibilities. I may miss a pivotal moment…the chance to transform or be transformed.
What might happen if I set aside the barriers, the disparities that I have either invented or bought into that distract me from or inhibit my interaction with you? What might I gain? What might you?
What are the possibilities for enrichment, creativity, development, if we shatter the walls we erect to protect ourselves and replace them with more common spaces for uncommon interactions with people who experience life differently, who think differently, or if we substitute the narrow lens through which we may have learned to view fellow humans with a multi- dimensional lens that captures the depth and breadth and complexities of our lives?
A few Sundays ago, I was watching Sunday Morning on CBS, and a young man whose job is that of a server/waiter in a restaurant was talking abut how he feels he and his work are viewed by many who depend on his service. He mentioned the demeaning way customers sometimes treat him, the comment ”why don’t you get a real job” to which he has been subjected, and the disrespect and disregard he has experienced or witnessed in his work. I thought of the many waiters/servers I’ve met, not all wonderful certainly, but most have been extraordinarily kind and caring. They have taken great pride in the quality of service and they have wanted me to have a good experience. From some, I have learned about wines, the art of cake decorating, places I have never been; I have learned about resiliency and determination; and I have walked into a restaurant and been greeted by a waiter with a huge smile and a hug just when I needed one most.
Recently, I met a former marine, a new hire in a local restaurant who had returned not long ago from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was so engaging, and I was fascinated by the stories of his life journey, and he is only 22. He said a few things that led me to think that I reminded him of his mom. Long story short…he brought over a napkin on which he had written a list of things to experience…He handed it to me, and told me it was my bucket list…new experiences he thought I would love and would enrich my life. He included things to do with my best friends, because he had listened carefully when I mentioned how important they are in my life.
Oh the possibilities that emerge when we let go of our preconceived notions about who we can learn from, who has something of value to offer.
I must say that I am profoundly grateful for a lesson from my father, who himself was a waiter as a young Black man trying to make his place in a world where, in the 1940’s, he was often invisible or looked upon with disdain. He would say that we should always leave a good tip and not make assumptions about who a person is because of the work he does. Treat a waiter with as much respect as we treat the folks in church, he’d say.
If I could change one thing, I would invite you to bring your checklist by which you judge the value, potential, contributions of others to a very special ceremony where together we light a fire and offer our checklists in exchange for admission into the realm of possibility.