I guess I better start telling some stories… I’ve had this post brewing for years, but last weekend finally offered the perfect example:
We have to go up a couple gravel roads before we get to the paved roads that get us to Winnipeg for church. A few weeks ago on our way to church we quickly approached a car already on the gravel road. It wasn’t going super slow, but slow enough that we would’ve liked to pass. It quickly became apparent that the car wasn’t going to move over to let us by. I’ll be honest. We were a little frustrated. We got a bit closer to the car to see if they’d move over. Soon I realized that the driver of the car was probably a girl from the Bible Study we host every week. I mentioned it to Marc, “I bet that’s Hanne!” We were pretty sure it was, but it wasn’t until we got to the main highway and passed the car that we realized it was, indeed, Hanne!
It’s funny. At first when we saw how slow the car was going, we were annoyed. But when we realized it was Hanne, we weren’t anymore. Thoughts ran through my head. “It’s Hanne! She’s the sweetest, kindest girl. It’s okay that she’s driving cautiously (note the change from “slow” to “cautiously”). Of course, she’s driving slower on the gravel, she’s had her license less than five years!” My whole perception of the incident changed because I knew the girl behind the wheel.
Now, the thought that has been running through my head for the past few years waiting to be a blog post is that driving cars should be an analogy for the way life is. We so easily get annoyed at cars that go too slow, too fast, drive through stop signs, or have tail lights burnt out. We respond to what we see, but we don’t know the why of it. Is the car driving fast because the woman in the passenger’s seat is in labour? Is the car driving slowly because the person just had major surgery and every bump hurts? Maybe the driver of that car just received horrible news and was so distracted he missed the stop sign. So many reasons why they did what they did. So many reasons we will never know.
And aren’t we like that too? We might see someone blow up at their kid in Walmart or cry over the tiniest thing in a movie, and think, “Seriously?! Get it together!” But how can we say that? How can we say that until we know that person? And not just cursory information, either. Think about your friends, even. How much of their history do you really know? Do you know their family dynamics? The way they viewed themselves through different stages of their life? Their political or religious beliefs? What they brings them real joy and real pain? Why are they afraid of clowns and realtors?
There is always a reason why people respond as they do. Perhaps they are reminded of something horrible or delightful from their past — sometimes things are both horrible and delightful! We might want to suppress what we’re experiencing and so we put up a tough exterior. Often we don’t realize why we respond to situations as we do. Sometimes we just respond like jackasses because, well, we’re all jackasses about something. Usually because we don’t have compassion — because we aren’t willing to see the behaviour or struggle of another in ourselves.
But if we do, if we pull back the layers of who we are, open the car doors, air out the upholstery, clean off the windows, invite some travelers in… we will see others’ experiences and responses in our own. I really want to do an “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” analogy, but that seems just a bit too much…
It’s true though. The ways we act aren’t always that different. In fact they’re pretty close — maybe a bit (or a lot) more or less extreme. But it seems like there are a limited number of human emotions and responses which become extremely complicated because we’ve all gotten to them by different paths. Our stories have worked and weaved us in intricate ways to the moment we find ourselves in. We may not be touched by the same thing as our spouse (heck, I will never cry at the Survivor reunion episodes the way Marc does!). Neither will we always be irritated by the same things. But we need to acknowledge the fact that something in us elicits the joy or the irritation that we’re experiencing, and that happens to everyone.
So, though I may not have the responses of someone who has been abused, I cannot rightly judge that person because I do not know the many ways abuse has affected him or her. This is not to say that every response is the “right” response, but only that we should have grace for ourselves and for others. That we should be willing to get to know people and how they tick and why they tick and what ticks them off. And, since we can’t know everything about everyone, that we try to look for the human story in each of us. In the end, how we react — good or bad, right or wrong, appropriately or inappropriately — is just our way of managing in the present the very simple emotions that come with our very complicated histories.