I should order all my groceries online from now on. Not only would it save time but it would avoid all those messy situations I keep running into – which line to choose, how many times to let someone in front of me, what to do when they get angry with me for not letting more people in front of me, how to avoid yelling at the guy who cut me off in the parking lot and, the biggest question of all, should I walk all the way back to the store to return the cart?!
Because the supermarket offers a cross-section of people, it’s a good place to see how I’m really doing in my goal to practice the Jewish idea of loving humanity.
That famous (or infamous) quote “I love humanity; it’s just people I can’t stand” seems to sum up our dilemma. We want to care about each and every individual – but sometimes they just make it so hard! In some situations, it’s very difficult to actually practice what you preach.
Pause for a moment and remember that this individual was created in the image of God.
My husband gave me an effective tool. Before every interaction, pause for a moment and remember that this individual was created in the image of God. That perspective changes it all. I take a deep breath and I treat them with greater thoughtfulness, with more compassion.
As with all new attempts at growth, the Almighty gives me constant opportunity to demonstrate if I really mean it. Not long after I adopted this tool, a car rear-ended me as I was stopped a red light. It was a long line of cars, no one was moving, it could only have happened because the driver wasn’t looking (probably texting). On top of that, I was on my way to teach and I didn’t want to be late. I pulled over and thought of my husband’s tool. Luckily there was no damage to my car (or me!) so the test was not as great as it initially seemed. The other driver was relieved that everything was okay, apologized profusely (she was having a rough day – I tried to be empathic but that seemed to be pushing it!) and gave me a hug. Frankly it was a bit stunning – but I got back in the car and (somewhat) calmly drove off, relieved that my I hadn’t lost my temper, that I’d kept my focus on the humanity of the other driver.
On a roll, I managed pleasant interactions with everyone at my next trip to the grocery store (I still hadn’t learned to order it all online) and the cleaners.
I thought I had really mastered it. Everyone is created in the image of God had taken me far. But then someone was rude to me at the pharmacy, someone treated me like an idiot at the bank, all the other passengers pushed in front of me to get off the plane and a driver cut me off while gesturing obscenely. I took two steps backward. It required more than a deep breath to remind myself that these individuals also are created in the image of the Almighty.
In the midst of this new exercise my husband took a short trip to a major American city. One street over from all the big fancy department stores (Neimans, Saks, you name it), the streets were filled with the homeless, the junkies (and the free needle clinics), the mentally ill, the unwashed, the impoverished…I’m not sure whose humanity was brought into question more – that of those who blithely shopped one street over or those poor, drugged creatures on the street. Once again, it took more than a deep breath.
And of course I realized that it does take more than one deep breath – because it’s not just a cute tool to say that everyone is created in the image of God, it’s a crucial bone-deep recognition. Only if this idea is firmly entrenched in my consciousness will it really mean anything. It’s not a tool before meeting someone; it’s a total world view, a way of approaching life. It’s the only way to practice true love, the only hope for humanity and actual world peace (and not the beauty pageant version).
When it’s easy – when it’s our friends, when it’s people like us – we delude ourselves into thinking we have integrated this understanding. But when it isn’t, we see that we have a long way to go.
Using the tool is better than nothing, but the goal is to really change my focus, to really change my understanding so that I see the idea of every human being created in the image of God, not as a strategy but as a statement of reality.