you never know...

you never know...
Photo by Ryoji Iwata / Unsplash

In the daily course of events, I see a lot of people. Many friends, but even more strangers. I've been told that I'll never really know someone until I've walked a mile in their shoes. I've even been told that I should show compassion to strangers "because you never know what they're going through."

ignorance --> compassion ==>? knowledge --> cruelty

That's wonderful advice! Yes, we should show compassion to strangers. However, the reasoning throws me off: if I happen to know what a stranger's going through, does that mean I should no longer show them compassion? That is, should I only be kind when I'm ignorant of someone's life circumstances?

No, of course not. And it would be unfair to those who give good advice to imply that this is what they mean. Rather than using knowledge of someone's life as excuse for cruelty, let's be kind in spite of our knowledge.

Specifically, be kind to everyone, regardless of how much you know about them. It doesn't matter if they're dying of a painful disease, or if they lived a charmed life of privilege.

a story

I rarely experience more righteous conviction from my conscience than on the days I drive on I-10 between Katy and Houston. It's a long, hard stretch of road, and the tempers are almost as hot as the weather outside. I'd listened to audiobooks for the previous six hours of the drive, but the traffic moved just slowly enough to make me repeatedly rewind my book after losing focus for the umpteenth time. I gave up on the book to sit in impatient silence.

In Texas, people tend to view mufflers as a gentle suggestion rather than a rule, so I wasn't surprised when I heard what sounded like a Black Hawk helicopter coming in for a landing behind me. A shiny blue Corvette Stingray was flying down the hurricane lane.

I watched a dozen people almost lose their middle fingers as the blue streak passed within inches of their open windows. While I was at a standstill in my compact pickup, this sports car was zooming before zooming was normal.

But it wasn't the car's fault. Cars don't have brains. This offensive, offending car had a driver, and whether that driver had a brain is still an active area of research. Without conscious effort on my part, I put that driver into the category of people who don't deserve compassion or grace. I put him (yes, he is male, as I learned later) into my mental box labelled, "People who don't suffer, but everyone around them does."

He passed me without ceremony. I had more thoughts about him than he ever did or will have about me. Within minutes, the opportunity for sin was passed, so I promptly lost all motivation to remember that blue car and its driver. I probably started my book tape then. I think it was about World War II, and I found great comfort in the reminder that I'm morally superior to Nazis.

Once traffic started moving, I made it out of the Katy suburbs. The sun was shining, the Allies were winning, and I was almost home. I happened to glance in the bar ditch where someone had recently wrecked. I started to offer a prayer for the safety and health of all involved, but I stopped short when I saw the baby-blue shrapnel.

A cloud passed over the sun as two visceral spirits fought for control of my mind. One said, I hope he's okay. The other said, He deserves what he got.

Fortunately, high-performance sport cars are designed to crumple on impact, protecting their drivers in a safe egg of rigidity.

As I drove past, forgetting to listen to my book, I saw the driver standing safe-and-sound, talking to the emergency response folks.


There's no moral to this story. It's a real story and a true story. I think about it often. I had no hand in the man's obnoxious speeding or in his wreck. I had no hand in his safe extrication or his likely insurance claims. I simply observed and judged. My thoughts and judgments didn't make a measurable impact one way or another. They simply existed in my mind, a universe apart from the intrinsic glory of all people.

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