Thursday, November 19, 2009

People Watching

My love of humanity is horribly inconsistent.

At times I think I love ALL people (undoubtedly self-deluded) motivated by Christian sentiments of wanting to emote in sync with the Father's affection revealed in John 3:16 ("for God so loved the world."). Other times though, I can be grotesquely snobby, supposing that people must earn value that is not inherently theirs by virtue of being anthropologically classifiable as homo sapiens. To combat the contradicting extremes I employ two practices:

1. I attempt to recall an Augustinian view of my own depravity, knowing that I'm only capable of a certain amount of love for anyone. Therefore, I reign back thoughts about how altruistic my motives and affections really are. God may love "the world," but I'm thankful to have periods of love for anyone - let alone those who make it difficult. I simply have never arrived... I have a long way to go. I always will.

2. I watch people as they go about what they do, and attempt to consider what issues are facing them, influencing them to hustle and bustle through their various activities. Intolerance with people is often born of brief "snapshots," assuming that behavior observed in a mere moment is somehow indicative of their whole lifestyle. Were such a paradigm applied to me, surely I could be seen as being among the more diabolical villains to plague the human race. Therefore, I try to suspend the tendency to judge by "snapshots." Even when I only have brief contact with someone, some imagination can be used to place the moment within the context of a larger life story.

This discipline can be put into practice whenever I'm in the company of people. It's easier to do at home obviously, since I know more of their life story. Still not entirely too laborious is to extend this understanding toward those one works with. Through workplace conversations you become aware of the issues faced by co-workers. As a result, any given moment can be better placed within the broader context of their living narrative, making you more tolerant of perceived annoyances or quirks.

Where it gets more difficult is in those places where you interact with people you do not know for brief, single moments.

-The harried retail checker ringing up your merchandise on "Black Friday."

-The rude driver that forces the nose of their car in front of you during the morning commute.

-The customer service rep trying to address your issue over the phone.

This practice is often put to the greatest test when "people watching" at a bus stop. Public transit commutes offer a wealth of opportunities to see just how understanding toward people I'm willing to be. The bus stop is a tremendous arena for discovering exactly how much Jesus Christ has influenced my affection for "the world." The person waiting next to me is not necessary for me accomplishing something. My understanding toward them does not "grease the wheels" of something I'm trying to accomplish. The retail checkout person might go slower if I'm not patient and kind with them (and we can't have that). The car merging into my lane better get that space, lest I risk denting both theirs and my vehicle. The customer service rep on the phone can make my life easier or harder based upon how cooperative they are motivated to be (hopefully my kindness motivates them to help me... a lot). The bus stop bystander though, means nothing to me, except that they are a fellow person with a life story in which fits this moment in time.

People watching, on such occasions, is the chance to discover exactly how loving I'm becoming, or can be from time to time. So often I'm depraved, selfish and rude. However, it's good to know that the Spirit of God can invade even THAT, and punctuate my life story with epiphanous "snapshots" of His influence.

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