What are the Facts?
July 1, 2020
Last week I wrote about taking the time to find out the truth behind what we judge as an uncomfortable action by someone. This reminds me of Flora Sag’s description of what happened to her when she judged before she knew the truth.
“One Sunday morning I was on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.
Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more.”
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to do or think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
This story ended with harmless consequences. Unfortunately, judging before knowing the truth can lead to death, as in what happened to Elijah McClain. Someone saw Elijah walking home one evening with a mask on even though it was not cold outside. As he walked, he was waving his arms. The person who saw this made up a story about him and judged him as suspicious, and therefore, called 911. This simple act resulted in Elijah’s death at the hands of policemen who also judged him because he was acting unusual. I wonder what stories those officers told themselves about Elijah’s actions. Perhaps if they had taken the time to check out their stories with Elijah, he would be alive today. How heart wrenching!!
Had the police officers asked Elijah why he was wearing a ski mask, they would have discovered that it was to help him keep warm because he had a blood condition that made him prone to being cold. Had they taken the time to ask him why he was waving his hands before they took him down, he would have explained that he was different. Since waving hands is a common sign of autism, the officers might have realized what he was trying to say. But they didn’t wait. Once he was down, he resisted. What story did the officers tell themselves that caused them to escalate the situation with a 5’7” man who was of slight build? We don’t know what was going through their minds, nor are we in the position of “telling a story” about what went through their minds because then we would be guilty of doing the same thing. See how difficult it is to stick to just the facts?
We get to learn from the above examples of how life could be so much better if we did not judge before knowing the FACTS. This week, let’s look at how many times we judge a situation before knowing all the facts and how that colors our attitude about the situation, good or bad.
Prayer: God, thank you for sending your Son who told us “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24). We humbly admit that following His instructions is extremely difficult. Help us recognize the harmful consequences of this behavior so that we can be motivated to change our ways. Amen.
With love and peace,