When I was a kid, my mother taught me a very important sentence:
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
She would remind me of this when we saw someone less fortunate, or someone who was homeless, when someone’s family died or someone divorced. She would use others’ misfortune or bad decisions to quietly remind me that we were all just a small distance removed from such things and could be in the same situation in a blink. Except for the mercy of God allowing us to be okay.
My parents taught us that we were not better than someone else, no matter what. We may have had better circumstances than some, but we also had worse circumstances than others. We may have had food to eat and clothes to wear, but we didn’t have excess. We were and are well-educated, but that doesn’t make us better than someone who is ignorant or uneducated (ignorant as in not knowledgeable , not ig’nrnt as in being an idiot. There’s a difference in the South). Our choices may have worked out for the best — we were not to consider ourselves superior to those whose choices had led to disaster. We were safe through God’s grace, not because we were better.
In addition, because we were able, we should help those who were not. Many times I saw my parents help family members who were having financial troubles, even if they couldn’t really afford to do so. Many times I heard the phone calls or conversations putting in a good word for someone who needed a job. Family members were rescued from abusive situations and troubled lives. A homeless man was paid for painting our house (painting it badly, I might add). The children of friends were bailed out when they were too scared to call their parents, and other friends were picked up when they needed a ride (or bail money). My parents are generous to a fault. No one has ever left my parents’ house hungry unless it’s their own fault, and if you don’t go home with a bag of food it’s because you were too quick for my mom. If you were moving, they were helping. No Girl Scout ever went away without a cookie order, and we had lots of wrapping paper and frozen cookie dough from every kid with a fundraiser who crossed my parents’ paths.
I can never remember my parents ever judging someone because they had been in prison, or because they were poor. They never judged someone because they were unemployed, or because they had made bad decisions. There, but for the grace of God…went us.
Recently Mama and I have seen a trend in some friends. They seem….classist. Elitist. And definitely biased against anyone who is not wealthy, upstanding, and blameless. We’ve been noticing people who judge others for their choices or the choices of their family members. People who just can’t imagine how So-and-So could possibly show their faces in public. Who can’t move past someone’s felonious history to mourn their passing. We all know these people, don’t we? The people who judge others because of foreclosure or hard times. The people who can’t look past someone’s criminal history and take a chance on someone who needs a second chance.
I have to admit that it’s becoming hard for me not to judge those who judge others. I hate that I am feeling that way — but I do. I cannot wrap my head around that level of “I am better than you”-ness. It disturbs me to my core when people like this have children they are raising to judge, even if it’s subconscious. Children who don’t know how to donate their unwanted clothes and toys to Goodwill, who don’t know how to put a few coins in the envelope of the schoolchild collecting for a literacy project. Children who will think that people whose parents are less than upstanding are to be judged for the sins of their fathers, and vice versa. Or children who think that their “good works” or actions will garner them favor with God. When in reality they need to teach their children a simple rule of thumb to dictate how they interact with all people, always:
There, but for the grace of God, go I.