Same People, Different Labels

In the Aesop’s fable The Man, the Boy and the Donkey (See my March post) did you notice that the same boy who was viewed as a “poor little son” by one group was considered a “hulking” one by others, and that his father, who was viewed as a person to be respected by some, was a “lazy lout?” to others?

It’s not hard to be aware during a political race, that the same person who is cast as a hero or genius by some is  presented as a villain or fool by others.  Glad the politicians (and their families) are up for it. I wouldn’t be. I’m convinced that how others perceive us, is just as much a reflection of who they are, as who we are.

When a relative took a job for a while as a used car salesman, he’d just barely gotten out of training when a customer asked to see a particular SUV. It was the very SUV our relative had been the most impressed with during the test-drives. “Oh that’s my favorite,” he said naively.

“Yeah, right,” said the customer. “You would say that no matter which car I asked about. You’re a used car salesman.”

Is that how I’m perceived now? thought this relative. As someone distrustful? He’d been a teacher just a few days before.

When she filed for a divorce, a friend of mine said basically the same thing. People who had admired and loved her just weeks before, viewed her oppositely. “Even what I’d done that was good in my life and in our marriage was suddenly painted as bad and evil. I had no redeeming qualities (to some.) “Almost over night I went from being a hero to being a villain,” she said. She was thankful there were those who remained her friends, and many wise and kind people who reserved judgment not only on her but on her ex-husband.

I once posted on Facebook (in essence) that I would love to be even close to as smart, as wise, as angelic and ready to sprout wings as some individuals claim I am. Then I added that I was very glad I am not anywhere near to being the stupid, foolish, or villainous human being that others seem to see. I was once told in the same week that I “hardly did anything” (I got this secondhand) to that I was “such a hard-working and productive person.”

All around us we see those who dislike others because they worship differently, don’t dress or look the same, have a differing opinion, belong to an opposing political party, or even cheer for the “wrong” team.

When and if we are mislabeled it can be painful. Few of us are perfect, but we always hope others will choose to see our strengths and the good we’re trying to do and not our faults or weaknesses. Whenever we feel misjudged or mislabeled or misrepresented, it might help us to recognize that we are in excellent company. Some of the greatest people weren’t considered so great by everyone. We think of Winston Churchill as the strong and inspirational leader who would not surrender to the Nazis. But it wasn’t just the Nazis who didn’t like him when he was alive. A woman (possibly a member of an opposing party?) seated next to him at a dinner party once told Mr. Churchill that if he were her husband, she’d poison his coffee. Churchill had an interesting comeback. “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

So many great and honorable men and women were not necessarily considered so during their lives or by some of their contemporaries. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake; Sir Thomas More, now recognized for his integrity for refusing to condone the actions of Henry VIII, was convicted of high treason. In American history, we’re surprised when we learn that there were those who criticized George Washington, John Adams and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few. And then there’s Jesus. We are fully aware that there were those who hated Him so much that they chose to crucify Him. But then there were those who loved Him, and revered Him to the point that they gave up everything to follow Him. Even now, 2000 or so years later, there are still those who hate or disrespect Jesus. There are also still those of us who love and revere Him.

As the Aesop’s fable I mentioned indicates, it seems to be human nature to pass judgment on others with very little information or knowledge of who they really are. I like the simple admonition of a leader in my church, Dieter F. Uchtdorf.  “Stop it,” he said.

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