From his balcony, he looked down over the houses of all his subjects–first, over the spires of the noblemen’s castles, across the broad roofs of the rich men’s mansions, then over the little houses of the townsfolk, to the huts of the farmers far off in the fields.
It was a mighty view and it made King Derwin feel mighty important. (from The 500 Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss)
I can’t include this passage without also quoting from the very next page, where we see Bartholomew Cubbins looking from his little hut toward the castle:
It was exactly the same view that King Derwin saw from his balcony, but Bartholomew saw it backward. It was a mighty view, but it made Barholomew Cubbins feel mighty small.
Has this ever happened to you? You are standing in line at the grocery store, paying with money you worked hard and honestly for, and you notice the person in front of you messing with her smart phone with professionally manicured hands before she pays with a food stamp card? Before you can stop yourself, judgement floods your mind. You inwardly scoff. How irresponsible! How wrong! If she can afford a smart phone, why does she need food stamps? Your view makes you feel superior, smug, and smart.
Does it occur to you that you actually don’t know a thing about her situation? You don’t know if she has a job or what kind of job she has. You don’t know if the card is her own or if she is doing a favor and shopping for a down and out neighbor. You don’t know if the smart phone is work-issued or if was purchased and put under contract before hard luck hit. You don’t know if her sister is in cosmetology school and practices on her nails. Perhaps you are so privileged that you have never known what it might be like to not have anyone teach you priorities or fiscal responsibility, to not know the kind of fear that accompanies generational poverty and therefore you cannot put yourself in her shoes. Maybe she is irresponsible but has never been taught differently or maybe she is working as hard as she can and she never thought she would be in this situation. Does it occur to you that it might make her feel mighty small to pull that food stamp card out in front of everyone?
My friend, Cassi, and her young sons have been lending a helping hand to a group of homeless people in their town. Not surprisingly, some people who have heard of what they have been doing have cautioned her to “not help too much.” They’ve passed on their judgement like germs on a shopping cart and assumed they know the character that leads to homelessness. But Cassi is both braver and kinder than to allow it to infect her. She said this in response to them today: “We can’t get on our high horses and pretend that we know anything about anyone that we have never taken the time to get to know personally. And besides, what if the stereotypes WERE true for everybody? They all of sudden become less deserving of grace and love and help? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t we be reaching out even more so to those folks?”
Cassi could have chosen differently. When her son expressed his desire to help a homeless person, she could have said, “No, honey. That man is clearly an alcoholic and anything we give him will just be wasted.” But she didn’t. Instead she chose to teach her children (and her friends) that mercy and grace are not to be earned and nothing given in a spirit of love is ever wasted. She chose not to sit in her beautiful home and feel superior or to drive by in her nice car and turn up her nose. She chose to set aside the mighty view, to cross the distance so that she was face to face and eye to eye with a person in great need. And, in so doing, she probably made that person feel bigger. Thanks for the lesson, Cassi.