Skip to content

Breaking Barriers

January 9, 2011

Imagine you are shopping at the west-end Wal-Mart in Billings.  You approach the check-out line behind a woman and her three young children.  The woman is struggling to unload diapers, clothing, and groceries from her cart and simultaneously monitor her rambunctious oldest child.  She turns around briefly and you see that she is Indian.  You think to yourself, “Typical Indian, coming to spend all her government money on the first of the month.”  You smile politely at her, though you wish she would just go back to whichever reservation she came from.

What you don’t know is that this woman with three children is making a valiant effort to improve her life by attending school to complete her college degree. It is valiant because to do so, she needs to wake up at 6am to get her kids ready for school and for daycare before rushing off to school herself. After attending classes all day, she picks her children up and cooks them dinner, then helps them do their homework before sitting down to do her own homework, which keeps her up until midnight or beyond. Government funding is the only thing that makes this self-improvement possible because otherwise she would have to work full time at a low-end job to pay the bills.  She is not a welfare queen, despite what you assumed.

Now reimagine yourself in that check-out line in Wal-Mart, lining up behind the woman with her three children.  Imagine that instead of offering a fake smile to cover your negative thoughts, you offered a genuine smile and helped her to unload her cart.  Not only did you just overcome one of your own stereotypes, but you also helped her overcome one of hers:  that white people are not to be trusted.

Alternatively, you could be in that same line in Wal-Mart and encounter a grouchy cashier.  You think to yourself, “She could at least fake a smile since she’s getting paid to be here.”  You snatch your bags after paying the bill and offer a curt “thank you,” grumbling to yourself under your breath about what’s coming of today’s society.  What you don’t know was the cashier’s sister was killed in a car accident the week before and she is expending most of her energy each day simply fighting tears.

There are countless situations we encounter in which we are tempted to judge others–for being too rude, too arrogant, too ignorant, too this, or too that–but despite the temptation, it is never our place to judge another human being because we simply don’t know.  We don’t know what brought them to this behavior we want to criticize, and we don’t know how we would act in their shoes–possibly the very same way.  Our job is not to judge but to love–to love our neighbors as ourselves, understanding that they, just like us, are far from perfect.  That love is what helps to lift us out of our rudeness, arrogance, ignorance, or whatever it may be, so that we may shine.

From → Social Critique

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: