The expression “There but for the grace of god go I” is attributed to English evangelical preacher and martyr, John Bradford (circa 1510–1555) as he watched criminals being led to execution. Regardless of its origin it is essentially saying if not for divine intervention or a degree of luck our lives could be very different.
This post is about being grateful and non-judgmental. I will mention from the outset that being judgmental is something I have struggled with for a long time. So, this is not a post about how well I have achieved gratitude or how nonjudgmental I have become. It is about how a shift in thinking can have a profound effect on our own lives and those around us.
I believe many of us take our everyday circumstances for granted. We see ourselves, our individual circumstances, as something we chose, or something we worked to achieve. Many of us take little time to reflect on how things might be different if we had grown up in different circumstances. How would our social identity and our lives be different if we had been born into a different socioeconomic environment or geographical region?
If you have spent any time on social media or in general conversation with others, you will no doubt have come across some very rigid and judgmental attitudes towards people and their circumstances. How often do you see someone with depression being labelled as lazy or someone with social anxiety being labelled as lacking courage or motivation? It is so easy to judge other people, to blame them for their circumstances and at times to pat ourselves on the back for our success and lifestyle. There are of course people who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds of poverty or disadvantage and turned their lives around. However, most people born into difficult circumstances are not able to do this.
At an international level it is easier to see how much of our life situation had nothing to do with us. Immigration is often a hotly debated issue, particularly in western societies. Refugees and asylum seekers often invoke strong attitudes about who, how many and how much assistance we should give to those trying to escape oppressive or even life-threatening circumstances. It is of course not logistically possible for any country to accept every person seeking residency. I do feel however it is a notable example of how we can often take for granted our own situation. I was born to middle class parents in a country that is mostly free of poverty, famine and war. I don’t spend my days struggling for the necessities of life. There is good education, health services and a general lifestyle that is the envy of many third world countries. I wasn’t forced to leave my country because of war, famine or disease. Funny thing is, I don’t remember filling out a form before I was born enabling me to live here. I just got lucky, or from a religious perspective, I was blessed to find myself in this situation.
At a local level there are also variations or graces. I was not born with severe physical or mental disabilities. I grew up in a reasonably functional household and did not experience severe physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Everyone is not that lucky, even in this country. So, when you see someone who is struggling or acting out it can be helpful rather than to judge, and say what is wrong with you, to say, what happened to you. What may have your life and circumstances have been like that would explain your behaviour. Can I help in anyway or if not, can I at least try to understand you instead of judge you? Even as a purely mental exercise this type of shift in thinking can have a profound effect on how we view the world and those around us.
I believe it takes a willingness to consider what social, economic or geographical influences may have or may still be affecting a person if we want to understand them, rather than judge them. It not only helps them, but it helps us move more smoothly and harmoniously through life. Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird summed it up this way, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” (Lee, 1982, chpt 3). I believe no human life is more valuable than another, so all people deserve to be treated with respect and understanding. While many of us may have worked hard to achieve where we are in life today none of us got to choose where we started from.
Wishing you all the best in your journey