I recently ran a post about how mercy should trump judgment when it comes to addicts and alcoholics.Naturally, that same afternoon, I found myself sitting in judgment of a good friend, relishing unkind thoughts about how she’s handling a situation that’s none of my business.
Oh the irony! But the sad truth is, I do this all the time. I’m not sure a day goes by when I don’t indict someone for what seems to me like a poor choice, a backward belief, or a self-created crisis.
Have I always been so arrogant, petty, and heartless? I’m afraid so. But hopefully what has changed is my willingness to admit it. Typically, when I catch myself in the act of judging someone, my first temptation is to scold myself: Who do you think you are?! How dare you judge her! Shame on you!
But you know what? That doesn’t really help, because my ego is never going to feel sorry or try to reform. It just snickers at me and then stores away the negative energy for later use. And guess what? The only thing my ego enjoys more than bashing others is bashing me.
The good news in all of this is we are not our egos, and we are also not our thoughts. I’m convinced our true self is made in God’s image, can’t be diminished by anything we do or say, and only knows how to love.
So these days, when I notice my false-self/ego is gleefully banging its gavel again, I’m learning to do two things. First, I try to practice self-kindness; I look for a way to give myself a truer version of what my ego wants to take away from someone else.
Second, I look for the mercy angle—a shift in perspective that helps me arrive at compassion. I ask questions like: What would it feel like to live in this woman’s skin? What kind of emotional wounds might be driving her? How am I just like her?
The apostle Paul wrote, “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
I think making allowances—giving others and myself plenty of room and space in which to fall short or screw up—is a great definition of mercy. It’s not at all the same as making excuses. You’re not rationalizing away someone’s responsibility; you’re trying to understand what brought her to this place.
Of course, deciding not to judge someone is a lot harder when the person clearly deserves it; when we’re not just annoyed or critical, this person actually hurt us. In this case, mercy is more than a decision not to judge, it’s a gateway to the more difficult task of forgiveness. But never is mercy more precious than now; and should we succeed, it can have a powerful ripple effect.
I experienced this first hand when I took my 9th Step in recovery. As I went about making amends to people I’d hurt, I noticed how the act of humbly going to people, my hat in my hands, asking for forgiveness suddenly made the idea of forgiving people who have hurt me seem remarkably reasonable.
I should hold my hat in my hands more often.