Sunday, July 3, 2011

It Matters How We Treat People

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
—Plato




As I look at the flickering candles, above, it strikes me that almost every single candle is lit. Each candle represents a person and his or heartfelt prayer and desire. I wonder who lit each one, and if his or her prayer has been answered in the way they long for. Who lit the candle in the second row, third from the left? Was it a prayer of thanksgiving for good health? Or was it a prayer for a mother's child? We'll never know, but what we do know is this: Everyone we meet is, indeed, fighting some kind of battle. We just don't know what it is because it is not written on their foreheads for all of us to see. This is why it is imperative that we be kinder than necessary to those we meet, even if we don't feel they deserve it, even if we just aren't in the mood. St. Therese did this masterfully, and it wasn't always easy. She tells us stories of the times she had to swallow her pride and just do it anyway. She never regretted a single time that she was kind to someone.

Does it matter how we treat people? You bet. Can one rude glance, comment, or action affect someone? Oh yes, tremendously.

In this age of dads who dump their children off on the side of the road, mothers and fathers who abort their children, road rage, and Dr. Death, it is more important than ever to treat people kindly.

Last Sunday, before Mass started, I was glancing at a large scrape of mine that I had incurred by tripping on a pedestrian bridge earlier in the weekend. It was incredibly painful, and taking forever to heal. I was beginning to worry about the pain. I tried to be inconspicuous about it, not wanting to draw attention, but still wanting to check its progress. A woman and her husband proceeded to enter the pew in front of us, and when she saw me looking at it, shot me the most nasty, disgusted glance. She made me feel truly disgusting. I felt horrible. No one had ever looked at me like that before, and I felt extremely hurt. I spent a good part of the beginning of Mass wondering why she would look at me like that, what I had done wrong in her eyes. I replayed the scenario over and over in my head. I could not come up with an answer. How could this happen in church, of all places? I wondered incredulously.

It was really starting to eat me up inside, until finally I came to the realization that it did not matter. She chose to judge me for reasons unknown to me. I admit I had a few irritated thoughts about her as well in return! Time to move on, to concentrate on the Mass, to forgive and forget. She may have had something serious on her mind that had nothing to do with me. In turn, I had things on my mind she could not possibly know about. I decided that it was time to love thy neighbor, and so when it was time to shake for Peace, I waited for her to turn around, intending to shake. She shook others' hands, but would not turn around to face me.

Ah, well. It was her problem, not mine.

I prayed for her, like St. Therese did. I felt better.

I thought of that situation often throughout the week. I think God designed that just for me, so that I would be more mindful of how I treat people as well. The woman's rude behavior made me be more sensitive to how I treat others. I may think I am being kind, but perhaps I could be even kinder? Perhaps all of us could. I decided to conduct a little experiment. From now on, I will be extra kind to people I meet during the day, such as cashiers and waitstaff. Not just the please-and-thank-you-kind that I do anyway, but really try to make nice eye contact, some conversation, be extra polite. You know what I found out? It's actually quite fun!

I was tired, but I engaged the nice gentleman who prepared my fruity iced tea in a conversation about the health benefits of pomengranates. He got so excited talking about that! A cashier made a mistake and apologized, and I told her it was no big deal, not to worry, that it all got straightened out in the end. She looked surprised...and relieved. Another cashier thought I was in a hurry and tried her best to conduct the transaction quickly. I realized how rude I must have seemed, so I slowed down and said, "Oh I'm sorry, no need to hurry!" A young lady came to the door selling educational materials, and I spent extra time with her, telling her which houses did not have children, to save her time and a long walk down our street.

I'm not trying to pat myself on the back here, just describing how I found that going a little further than I normally would did really does make a difference. So be extra kind, kinder than necessary. Not just the routine kind we normally do, but...a little something extra.

I found out that I like my little experiment. I like holding the door for people who are just a tad farther away, or letting someone with only a few items go ahead of me at the grocery store. Asking elderly people if they need help getting something off of a shelf, or picking up items I find that fell of the shelves and putting them back. I came to see that it doesn't take that much more time to be kinder than necessary, and the rewards are amazing.

So when I see that lady at church again, I'll hold my hand out to shake. Because I now realize that she's probably fighting some sort of battle, too. Because it truly does matter how we treat people.

Perhaps she even lit one of these candles.


"You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them." —St. Therese


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