A man went on a walk one day. He left his house and journeyed. We walked down streets he was familiar with. He knew the people who lived in many of the houses. And he didn’t recognize others. As he walked along, he thought to himself. He saw signs in people’s yards. The signs expressed the owners’ preferences. Some were political signs – this was common because an election was coming up. The man commented to himself about these signs. He smiled at the houses where the people had put out signs of the candidate he favored. But his anger started to rise with each sign he saw of the opposing candidate.
His face changed. Instead of a smile, his face scrunched. He peered and glared at the homes hosting these signs, looking to see who the people were that had the nerve to post them.
These people had problems. How could they possibly support such a candidate. Hadn’t they heard about this candidate’s past and what they said and did? Are these people blind or just ignorant? Or maybe worse – they wanted the nation to fail.
The man kept walking, going through a roller coaster of emotions. But each time he came across the sign of the candidate he didn’t like, his anger grew. His assessment of the people became harsher.
“How could so many people be so stupid,” he thought. I’m glad I’m not like them. Thank you Lord that I’m not like these people.
The man kept walking. He walked by a co-workers house – a man he enjoyed working with. A man who he went to when he had questions about the job. This man was a man of wisdom. And the man was dismayed. There was a sign – a sign supporting the opposing candidate. “How can this be!?!” thought the man. I thought this man had wisdom. Had I been fooled by this all along?”
The man continued walking. And as he walked he sank deeper into anger with each sign he saw. “How could so many people be so wrong and so convinced that they were right? I have to convince them that they are wrong and I am right! But how will I do that?”
The man kept walking and thinking. He puzzled it out – wondering what would work. Maybe if he wrote a long treatise explaining his position – maybe people who see the brilliance of his position. Maybe he would build a large sign that people couldn’t avoid. Maybe he would study up on arguments and points, collect pieces of information and data that supported his ways of thinking. Maybe that would be overwhelming evidence and make these people see the light.
As the man pondered what he would do, he came to a church. On the front step was another man. He looked ragged and dirty. He was homeless and had no where else to go. The homeless man called out to the man – “Hey. What are you thinking about?”
“I’m sorry, what?” said the man on the walk. “What are you thinking about? You look like you are lost, lost in thought.” The man walking stopped, not sure what to make of the homeless man. He wasn’t asking for a handout. He asked a legitimate question.
So the man took a chance and told the homeless man what he was thinking about – how he could convince others that they were wrong and should change so they could be right.
“Oh,” said the homeless man. “And what did you conclude?”
The man on the walk stood and looked at the homeless man. “I’ve got some ideas. I’m just not sure what the best option is.” The man on the walk laughed to himself, thinking that maybe he would the homeless man what he thought would work best. So he did.
“What do you think would work?” asked the man on a walk.
“What do I think?” said the homeless man. “I think that if it were me, I’d try a different focus.”
The man was surprised by the answer – it wasn’t what he expected. So he asked him, “What do you mean?”
“Do you really want to know?” asked the homeless man. “Yes, please, tell me what you mean.”
“Ok,” said the homeless man. “You told me that you’ve been thinking how to convince people they are wrong and that you are right, correct?” “Yes,” said the man. “Go on.”
“Well, if it were me, I’d focus on something different. I’d ask questions.”
“What would that do?” asked the man on the walk.
“What has it done so far?” said the homeless man.
“Hmm. Well, it’s brought us to this conversation.” said the man on the walk. “Yes it has,” said the homeless man. “And you know what?”
“This conversation allowed you to see past the exterior – my dirtiness – hasn’t it?”
“Yes. But how does that relate to all these people with the signs? They are wrong. They need to be corrected.”
“Good luck with that. You’ll never correct them. You know why?” asked the homeless man.
“Because you don’t care about these people really. You care about being right. You think you can save people if they think the right way. You think you can change the world if everyone just believed what you believe. You think life is about being right.”
“Life is so much more than being right. What good is it to be right if you lose everyone around you? All the people that you care about and love? What good is it to be right if you end up being alone? What good is being right if that won’t save you anyway? How does being right feed you? How does it provide a shelter for you? How does it help you raise your children? When you lay on your deathbed, do you really think you’re going to say – I’m glad I was right? No, you’ll recall the people that you loved and that loved you. You’ll remember them because they loved you regardless of what you held to be true. You’ll remember them because they showed you grace and mercy. And that’s what we are called to do with others – grace and mercy.”
The man on the walk looked down and thought deeply. “Wow. deep words.”
As he raised his head up, he started to say, “But I have more quest…” The homeless man was gone. No more questions.
But what would actually change?
And it was in that moment that the man realized something.
He realized that without trying, the homeless man had convinced him he was wrong. Not by laying down facts and figures, arguments and beliefs. Not by anger and shame. But by caring about the man. By seeing his humanity. By seeing his being lost. The homeless man knew what being lost was like, and he shared the journey with him.
It didn’t solve all the problems, for they were too complex. It didn’t change anyone’s opinion, but it changed him. He looked past the signs now. He saw people – complex, messy people. People just like him. Lost. Now it wasn’t about changing opinions or beliefs. It was about being a change.
It was no longer about trying to change people to be like him – that was narcissistic to the core. Rather it was changing how he saw people. And it was then that he realized that it wasn’t his job to convince everyone. Instead, it was his job to see people as people.