What is the “lens of life” today? For my mother and father’s generation and their parent’s generation the “lens of life” was often, “what will people think?” One’s standing in the social setting was all important, how we behaved in a social context mattered a lot, we noticed how others related to one another. I would like to think this noticing was a function of care for one another, that we had one another’s back, an expression we sometimes use now. But I think that noticing was more a function of a homogeneous context, a more or less uniform social order with definite social norms. In a sense we were all the police of that state of mind, watching one another lest someone fall out of line. “Did you see how he…” would be the whisper. The result was a fairly clear set of norms and expectations and we took great exception to those who failed to live by the code.
For persons my age and younger these norms began to fray with the advent of individualism, the idea that the determination of what was right and sure originated with the freedom of the individual. “Judgement” became the nastiest form of censure in our culture, for one to judge another was a terrible sin. From the classroom to the pop culture to the influential works of art the focus on “me” and the call was to be “me” moving beyond the norms to the sweet spot where my happiness would rest in a life path only I could assess. Of course social pressure is still a reality for all of us, we want to be thin, attractive, successful, and popular. But there was no one uniform determinant to be successful, there were several ways to get there.
But missing in all of this, from a social point of view, was consideration of the other. Noticing the other and her or his needs should be less a function of their conformity or exercise of their individual talent but an assessment of their ability to see the other as s/he truly is and care for that other in that manner. How many of us really see the other from the point of view of someone who has made choices, has tastes and passions for life that make them different than us and learning from them and being in relationship with them? When they answer one of our questions with “Well, I love to…” our response shouldn’t be “Well, I love that too” or “Well, I love to (something different)”. Instead our response could be, “Well, that’s most interesting, tell me more…”
When Jesus met that woman at the well he was interested in her, her story, her hurts and aspirations, her needs. Jesus listened but he also spoke in a fashion that revealed deep consideration of the other, it was not all about him, it was about her.
Increasingly my assessment of people I admire and want to spend time with is in large part a function of the interest and care they express in the other. I am less interested in what they can do for me, how they support me, what they say about me and notice more how they are caring about the others around them, in particular people who just show up on their radar screen.
Kim, Lucy and I recently attended a wedding and together after the service and reception our conversation focused on who we noticed were caring about others, in conversation, in acts of kindness, in unexpected gestures of grace. In many cases we were truly inspired to do be more “Christ-like” ourselves and we give thanks for the witnesses around us who show us the way.