“Be brave because you are a child of God. Be kind because everyone else is too.”

I’ve noticed something about myself lately that bothers me a lot. I have a really bad habit of assigning character traits to people based on a single behavior that I’ve witnessed – especially people that I don’t know well or at all.

The person who cuts me off in traffic? What a selfish jerk. Not to mention an idiot. Someone ahead of me gets snippy with the cashier? Man, that person is so RUDE. What a jerk! Someone at work doesn’t respond to my email in a timely fashion? What a lazy jerk! Do they even work these days?

But lately, when I’ve caught myself making snap judgments, I’ve started to ask myself: How do I even know?

The person who cut me off in traffic…how do I know that he/she hadn’t just lost his job and was preoccupied on the commute home with how they should tell their family? The snippy shopper…how do I know that he/she wasn’t sure they had enough money in their account to cover groceries…again? The colleague with the seeming lack of urgency…how do I know that he/she isn’t caring for a terminally ill family member and doesn’t know how to juggle the demands of work and home?

You know what? Sometimes people’s actions really are a true reflection of their character. But too often that’s not the case. How is it okay for me to draw those conclusions when I really have no idea? When I do things that are less than admirable on the surface, I certainly afford myself the benefit of the doubt based on the circumstances at hand. If I cut someone off in traffic…oh, I’m sorry — I have an enormous blindspot with this car. I didn’t see you; I’m not a jerk. If I take longer than I should to get back to someone at work…I’m sorry — if you saw my workload, you would totally understand.

I’m not saying that circumstances justify poor manners or behavior. Not at all. But I am saying that when we are on the receiving end of poor manners or behavior, we shouldn’t rush to judgment. We can instead ask ourselves why before chalking it up to bad character. Why did this person do this? What could they be going through? When we practice that pause, it’s amazing how much compassion rushes to the surface.

But the most important pause of all is to simply remind ourselves that everyone we encounter is a child of God and viewed by God through a lens of compassion and love – no matter how unloveable we deem them to be.

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