A four year old discovers a brick in the middle of grass and picnic tables at a park. She carries it across the park to where her family is, asking if anyone knows where the brick came from. Her six year old brother excitedly explains that there's a brick walkway not too far away that's missing a brick. The mystery has been solved. The two venture to the walkway, and the four-year-old places the brick back in place, pleased with her work. All is now right in the world.
Our van was broken into - no windows smashed, just a door unlocked and the entire vehicle rummaged through. Food pantry donations, a cup half full of change, and bags of clothing ddonations were stolen. An iPod, a case of cds, and other valuable items were not. A then five year old suggested we fill a bag with food and leave it out that night in case the person was still hungry - with a note saying they didn't need to break into our van, they just needed to ask. He saw not the criminal activity, but the need. Only food, change, and clothing were taken, after all. We left nonperishable food and a note out every night for a week to no avail. Several weeks later, some of the clothes were returned, dropped off during the night at the bottom of our driveway.
How many times have we found a brick out of place, and taken care of it as well as the four-year old? Or do we step around or over the brick, leaving it for someone else to deal with?
How many times have we seen beyond misbehavior to motive or need, and found an opportunity to help instead of a reason for anger?
What if the brick was a person - perhaps a person who rubs you the wrong way, or believes differently than you, or is very much not as clean / crunchy / conservative / Christian / cool / insert your adjective here as you'd like them to be.
So many times in our lives, we cross the street to avoid the run-down house and the people who live there. Should we instead bring them some fresh-baked muffins and offer to do a little landscaping for them with the mulch we have leftover from our own lawn improvement project?
We avoid the newcomer to the group because she seems a bit odd, or needy, or more different than we think we're able to handle, instead of dropping our presumptions and getting to know the person.
Stepping around the homeless person while looking the other way, we fail ourselves. We deny the very basic part of ourselves - our humanness. Why not acknowledge the human being who is before us with a smile and kind word, if not a cup of coffee and a granola bar?
Viewing someone of a different religion or belief system as somehow lesser than people of our faith, as damned, or myriad other negative things does nothing but go against one of the basic tenets of most religions - that our higher power, rather than ourselves, is the one who is to judge people. You don't need to agree with someone's beliefs to respect them.
What if we treated each of these people, and the other "different" people, with the respect and kindness with which we expect to be treated - like we would want to be treated if we were in their situation? Why don't we tend to these bricks with as much diligence and respect as the four year old cared for her brick? Why don't we see the need - for food, money, friendship, kindness, respect - beyond how we perceive the situation or the person's actions?
Perhaps we can learn by watching children. Their natural tendency toward kindness and seeing the best in people and the world is worth a second look.