Several weeks ago, I had a really good conversation with someone. I’ve known him for a pretty long time – close to twenty years, I think – but I hadn’t had a conversation with him in about half that time. I mean, I see him around from time to time but we generally don’t talk. That’s because I had forgotten that he’s a great guy to chat with.
After that morning a few weeks ago when we came together for about twenty minutes, I was left remembering that he’s actually a really funny guy. He can turn any event in his life into a funny story, and tell it so you’ll almost pee yourself from laughing so hard. To be honest, he’s not that great a listener but he’s a great talker. I hardly got a word in edgewise but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him during those twenty minutes.
Afterwards, I thought about all those years when we had no conversation. We weren’t keeping malice; we just didn’t interact with each other or we only threw the most casual and meaningless greetings at each other in passing on the rare occasions when our paths intersected. I can’t say why he hadn’t been talking to me but I know why I hadn’t been talking to him. It was because I had forgotten that he’s a pretty nice guy. You see, years before he had badly hurt someone I love, and at that time I had put him in bad guy jail in my mind. Obviously, someone in mental bad guy jail is bad all the way through, right? Wrong. The chat we had on that recent morning reminded me that he’s not a bad guy, despite the stupid stuff he’s done.
I suppose our conversation got started for a couple of reasons. First, after all that I’ve experienced in the past few years of personal growth, I think I’ve become less judgy. I know, people; it may not seem like it so much now but I used to be so judgy. It was second nature for me to see the speck in other people’s eyes while ignoring the ginormous log in my own eye. I’d judge them and turn up my mental nose at them if I found them to be “bad”. However, after all that God has taken me through these past few years, I’ve come to a new understanding: who am I to think anyone is a bad guy because of the stupid stuff they’ve done, especially in light of all the stupid stuff I’ve done myself? That would make me the queen of all hypocrites, which is something I try really hard not to be. So I’ve abandoned that old default of judgement and mental jail.
Second, and I think based on my new less-judgy attitude, I tend to be more open-hearted towards most people than I used to be. A few years ago, because he was in mental bad guy jail and therefore was a bad person all around, I would have greeted him with a stony countenance and a quiet hello, then we would have sat in silence for the twenty minutes we spent together, both of us enduring the other’s presence. He would have fiddled with his phone and I would have read a book, and we would have ignored each other until our time was done. Finally, we would have parted company with relief and promptly forgotten that each other existed.
Not so this time. Nowadays, I almost always have a ready smile and happy greeting for just about everyone. My smile and greeting are always genuine and are rarely dependent on the recipient’s demeanor. So on that morning when our paths crossed, I threw him my big, open smile, which I think communicated to him that I was genuinely interested in whatever he had to say. I didn’t bury myself in my book (I always have one, even if only electronic) and I didn’t look around the room to see if something more interesting was going on; I focussed my attention on him and in return he turned his wit on me.
Our interaction turned into a lovely blessing for me – I caught up on some of the things that have been happening in his life, I got a new understanding and appreciation for the depth of love he has for someone I also love, and I had some of my best laughs of the year so far (anyone who knows me knows that I love to laugh).
But deeper still, and more importantly, this brief interaction reminded me of a basic truth that can be very easy to forget: that no person is all good or all bad. Like me, they do stupid stuff sometimes and they have flaws (I admit, some seem worse than others). But, generally speaking, people are not all good or all bad.
Isn’t it funny how I needed reminding of this? If I think hard enough (or maybe I don’t even have to think that hard) I’m sure I can come up with a few people who may have me in mental bad guy jail. And I know for sure that I’m not a bad person. But like I used to do to so many others, they put me there because of stupid stuff that I did. I don’t want to do that to anyone anymore. I want to be able to see someone’s flaws and think they’re worth knowing anyway. I want to remember that they’re not all good or all bad, that they’re just…well, just human. Imagine how many more wonderful interactions I’ll have because of this simple refresher lesson.
Emotional maturity, I’m gaining on you!