Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 15, 2002
It's so easy to judge purple hair
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
So I'm driving up Sixth Avenue in the heart of Greenwich Village, when I spy a young man. His hair is glowing purple. He's pierced in various places. He's dressed in grungy leather and is walking to the music he hears from the CD earplugs in both ears. I presume him to be part of an alternate culture I don't know and probably don't want to.
When the light changes to red I stop the car, as chance would have it, in front of the local Catholic church. The young man lopes by.
As I "tsk, tsk" in my head over the fallen state of young people, he does something I would never have expected. As he passes the Church, the man makes the sign of the cross. He probably thought no one saw him but the Guy upstairs.
He was wrong.
A nosy priest driving by, and possessed by the very human tendency to judge by appearances, was quickly put in his place.
Judgments are so easy to make. People seem, at times, so obvious. But we aren't really obvious at all. We have a depth of feelings, a well of personality and spiritual searching so often unseeable to the naked eye. And deciding we know someone because of their outward appearance is almost always folly.
Years ago I worked in a poor parish with a large minority population. I remember, one snowy night, the panic of having my car die in one of the worst sections of that parish.
Moments later three large, young African-American men approached me. My first response was fear. I was certain that they were up to no good.
Imagine my surprise when one of them leaned into my window with the offer of help.
And they were as good as their offer. One looked under the hood and tinkered with my troubled engine. Another ran up the block, returning in minutes with a can of dry gas, apparently just what I needed to get the car started again.
Off I drove, grateful for the help, embarrassed by what had been in my heart, and hoping that my face didn't reveal my quick judgment.
About six months later, my parents, my sister and I travelled to London. We had just finished a terrific lunch and were heading over to the Portrait Museum around Trafalgar Square in the Underground, a subway system of great style.
But what we didn't notice until it was too late was the young man hurtling down the escalator behind us. He rushed quickly past, but not before reaching into my sister's open bag and lifting her wallet. By the time she realized what had happened, he was out of reach.
We wouldn't have feared him or even given him a second look.
After all, he looked a lot like us.
I learned a good deal about appearances that year. I came to see that so many of our unfounded fears about others are based on useless generalizations. I'm less inclined to evaluate or judge based on skin colour, style of dress, cut of the hair or the differences in our ethnic background.
At least I thought I was better at this kind of evaluation.
Then I drove up Sixth Avenue, saw that kid and slipped into some judgments about his style and type. With a single gesture, the making of the sign of the cross, I got the kick in the pants I deserved.
I had no more business deciding I knew the kind of person he was than he would have if my Roman collar inclined him to write me off as just one more boring old priest.
Giving people a chance to be who they truly are, without prejudice, isn't easy.
It takes a daily dose of tolerance, understanding and allowing each person to speak for himself or herself.
Not an easy job, but one we must undertake if the phrase "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is to have any meaning at all.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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