This is the transcript of the first story ever told at The Weekly Service.
'Judge not lest ye be judged'. We are all familiar with this saying attributed to Jesus. It implies that those who judge others will be most harshly judged by god when they reach the pearly gates. Many among us don’t believe in such a god or eternal punishment for our sins. Does this mean we are free to judge others? Yes. Does it mean there are no repercussions for our judgement? I would argue the answer is ‘No’. To explain why I would like to share a story with you.
I was fortunate enough to spend most of August travelling through Turkey. My wife works for a travel company and she was offered a great deal on a packaged tour. We always swore we would never go on a tour and fancied ourselves to be intrepid adventurers rather than tourists but the deal was too good to turn down. We spent 20 days in the company of 14 complete strangers. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between was spent in the back pockets of our fellow passengers. By the end of the tour we knew the intricacies of everyone’s bowel movements, weird dietary requirements, neuroses and pet names.
For the first few days everyone go along famously. The neuroses were forgiven and people’s little quirks were hilarious. But by the end of the first week the cracks were starting to show. Alliances had formed, the gossiping had begun and then the knives were out. There were two women from New Zealand (who I came to refer to as the hobbits) who were particularly difficult to get along with. I found myself increasingly irritated by their stingy behaviour.
They’d load up on the free breakfast buffet and then squirrel away nuts, dried fruit, boiled eggs and bread into napkins. When we stopped for lunch at a restaurant they would pull out their own bottled water and their snacks and would start eating them at the table in front of the wait staff. When asked what they would like to eat they ordered nothing and then commenced eating the complementary bread. They’ never order wine but would gladly drink a glass if someone else bought the bottle.
They had made an art form of stinginess. Every time they questioned a bill or didn’t leave a tip I would feel my blood boil and would have to bite my tongue. I judged them them like it was going out of style, until I realised that the person I was really judging was myself. As those of you who know me well will attest, I can be a bit frugal. I’m a quarter Scottish so I am genetically predisposed to tight-arsery. My wife refers to me as stinge and I call her extravagance – we are engaged in an endless game of tug of war with the household finances.
So when I saw my own behaviour reflected back at me through the hobbits I was repulsed. I judged their behaviour and I judged them. And it felt good. I got a kick out of saying ‘that is bad I would never do that’ – but deep in my heart I was actually thinking ‘what a clever way to save a few bucks’. And then I felt sick because I had rejected an aspect of myself. In a way, I had harshly judged my own behaviour. Perhaps this is actually what Jesus was on about when he said ‘judge not lest ye be judged’. It isn’t god that will judge us, it is ourselves.
The other downside of my judgement of the hobbits was that as soon as I judged them I put a barrier up between me and them – ‘They aren’t like me – I am better than them’. This made it very difficult to be open with them and connect with them. This feeling was heightened when I shared my judgements with others in a bitchy backstabbing session. Again it felt good at the time but in a sickly sweet way – kind of like ordering the super-sized slurpy and popcorn and spending the rest of the movie groaning in agony. The next morning after the bitch fest I couldn’t look the hobbits in the eyes. I felt guilty and kind of dirty. Each time I judged them or talked about them behind their backs I lost a bit more respect for myself. Judge not, lest ye be judged.
So I decided to try a different approach. I thought about why I was stingy. As a child my Dad hammered into me the importance of saving money. I remember competitions between me and my brother to see who could make our packs of lollies last the longest. I was brought up believing that money was scarce. My Dad learned this behaviour from his father who learned it from his father and so on. The world has changed and we now have more that we need but I still have that ancient survival instinct hardwired into me – save money or we might starve. I know how ugly thriftiness can be but it is incredibly hard to change.
The hobbits are most likely the same. They too were probably conditioned by their parents and circumstances beyond their control to act as they do. Expecting them to act differently is like expecting a cat not to purr or a dog not to bark. Recognising this and consciously seeing myself in them helped me forgive their behaviour and brought a heightened awareness of my own. It was also an opportunity to remember the power of forgiveness and to be reminded of the virtue of generosity. The more I think about it, the more sense Jesus makes. Judge not, lest ye be judged –but not by god, by yourself. Perhaps we could flip it around: ‘Forgive others so that you may forgive yourself”. We could even take it one step further: ‘Look for the good in others so that you may see the good in yourself’.