Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life

The_birds_(552854009)The gray clouds lay low in the sky, completely saturated, as if they might burst any minute, with wisps of tattered scud torn from them, grazing the clay roofs of the university buildings. It was fall in Austin, Texas. Hordes of grackles swarmed from tree to tree along the sidewalk, cackling and calling—turning the sky from gray to black as they moved, like something from Hitchcock’s The Birds.

On a corner, perched atop an overturned crate, the spindly, unshaven form of an itinerant street preacher stood incongruous against the backdrop bicycles, backpacks and jeans and t-shirts that passed around him. Perhaps he had been ostracized from a Puritan community and blown into the late 20th century with the somber weather. He held a well-worn black book up toward the sky in one hand, his tattered jacket flapped in the almost-wet wind. His thin voice carried above of the cawing grackles to anyone who would listen.

We condemn in others that which we hate most about ourselves.

Now, I’ve had a lot of school, and church, and church-school since that day. While I was finishing up my PhD in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, I crossed the railroad tracks on campus and studied at the theology school. I taught in a pilot high school ethics course in inner city Atlanta. I participated in a clinical pastoral education experience for laity at the university hospital, and I studied enough New Testament Greek to be able to poorly translate something about thousands of demented pigs running down a hill. And, as a college professor, I teamed up with the chair of our religious studies department to teach a capstone seminar course in science and religion.

Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the day. Perhaps I was in my 20s, away from home for the first time in any significant way and homesick and impressionable. Perhaps it was street preacher’s 1741 Johnathan Edwards delivery style. I don’t know, but that line has stuck with me, and as our society becomes more polarized and more judgmental, it continues to stick.

We condemn in others that which we hate most about ourselves.

While, I’m not sure that we knowingly condemn, I do think we judge what we fear and don’t understand.  Often the result of that judgment is condemnation.

My maternal grandmother was very fond of the phrase, “Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins”. It’s a good rule, but it’s hard to do.

When I actually take the time to hear the other person’s story and imagine myself in her shoes, dealing with her hardships, I often come to the conclusion that I couldn’t manage life as well as she does. Coming at a problem from the other person’s view point makes it a lot harder to remain entrenched in my own judgmental dogma.

I start understanding. I start empathizing. I start loving.

And, generally, a solution to the problem—one that lifts all people up—starts to take shape.

When I find myself passing judgment or having a hard time forgiving, or simply just not knowing how to handle a situation, that day in Austin comes to mind.

We judge most harshly in others that which we fear most about ourselves.

I ask myself to be honest: What is it about me that I fear or don’t like about myself that I am seeing in this situation?

That question often changes things.

©2015 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.



One thought on “A Good Question to Ask

  1. Site Administrator says:

    Your maternal grandma must have been very wise to see the importance of that phrase. Very nice article!

    (You can delete this part of my comment later as I don’t know how else to contact you directly. I just have a request if you could update my blog listed in your blogroll. The link is no more “inthemoment at wordpress or coolsilence”. I’m now at
    I would greatly appreciate this. Thank you!)

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