This morning on the way to work, I observed four people at four different locations step out onto the street right in front of moving cars. This was within a ten mile drive through the heart of Grand Rapids. “Observed” is way too calm, as my daughter who sat in the passenger seat, would confirm.
Their actions put them in danger, as evidenced by cars braking and swerving to avoid hitting them. However, as I am in the habit of doing, I made certain judgments about the character of these people. Cynicism was at work in my heart. What idiots! Why don’t they watch out for cars? Do they think they own the road? They think they world revolves around them! How could they be so careless!
Then I extrapolated*my assumptions to others. Didn’t their mother teach them how to cross the street? They should have learned how to cross the street in kindergarten!
I could have given them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were tired, maybe they didn’t sleep well last night. Maybe they weren’t paying attention because they had too much on their minds, like losing their job or trying to find daycare at the last minute. Maybe the bus was almost at the bus stop and they were going to miss it if they didn’t take the risk (albeit a dangerous one), to catch the bus so they wouldn’t be late for school. Maybe they don’t care if they live or die.
How often do we exercise our inner cynic and extrapolate motives and character based on observed behavior? Mary made a simple mistake on that letter at work; she must be sloppy. Darlene didn’t make her bed; she must be lazy. Larry’s kid threw a screaming tantrum at the park; he must a terrible parent. Grandma’s dishes aren’t clean; she must not care anymore.
Instead we could exercise our inner hope, our love. Mary was interrupted three times in the middle of typing a rush letter. Darlene got up before her husband and didn’t want to disturb him. Then she got busy and forgot. Larry’s kid has autism and he is doing all he can to get him to the car and to a safe place. Grandma can’t see as well as she used to.
Maybe love is the opposite of cynicism. What kind of assumption would love make? Don’t give up on love. “8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8)
“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
Love might pray for the safety of that person who crossed the street dangerously (and the drivers who tried to avoid him). Or at least love could pray after saying, “Oh no! Watch out!”
*Extrapolate To infer or estimate by extending or projecting known information – http://www.wordnik.com/words/extrapolate. Leave their mother out of it.