There is a city about an hour’s drive from my home that I love visiting on day trips. Some would describe this city as artsy, which is a kind of backhanded slap or a conservative catchall phrase for meaning it’s different. To me, it is eclectic, with a variety of shops, restaurants, and individuals. When I talk to people, I am always amazed at the varying views they have about this city. Predictably, those with a more rigid right-leaning view believe it is a bastion of liberalism and moral decay, while those on the left think it is continually being stymied (by those on the right) from reaching its fullest potential. I on the other hand simply enjoy the view and appreciate it for what it is: a city and its people living in an uneasy balance.
My wife and I have two children, and though they have the same parents, and they were given the same amount of love and attention, they couldn’t be more different from each other. Think of how incredibly boring this world would be if it were filled with people who were all the same, or if there was just one kind flower, tree, or song. Honestly, boring would not adequately describe that world, and it certainly wouldn’t be a world in balance.
Judging others based on whatever criteria seems to be in vogue that day, causes us to lose sight of the fact that we are interdependent on one another, whether we believe it or not. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama so powerfully illustrates, “If at the beginning and end of our lives we depend upon the kindness of others, why in the middle of our lives should we not act kindly toward them.” Think about the teenager who we believe knowingly cuts us off in traffic, and so we share our displeasure with her by rudely honking the horn until she turns off the road and gets out of our way. Years later, this could be the same woman who sits with us as we lay in our nursing home bed spoon feeding us dinner and offering us comfort and kindness during our last days on earth.
It is not possible for anyone who considers him- or herself to be “religious” to show kindness and mercy to just one class of people while ignoring the struggles of others. I believe we will all be judged on whether or not we misused the grace granted us, and whether or not we personified in our lives all the possibilities of love and compassion the world offered us, not just the ones we chose to act on. As author and poet Samuel Johnson stated, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”
Our practice of unconditional love toward all people will reveal whether we have allowed the grace and power of our beliefs to produce a transformation in our lives and in the lives of others. As Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh shares, “If you cannot love man, animals, and plants, I doubt that you can love God. The capacity for loving God depends on your capacity for loving humankind and other species.”