When we gather around the water cooler to gossip, I’m always ready to cast the first stone.
The other day, I must have been trying to break my personal record because, in no particular order, I complained about a co-worker who was always missing deadlines (my blood pressure rises just thinking about it), an associate who is constantly promoting himself at the expense of others (they seem to populate the workplace) and an incalculable number of irritating politicians and self-obsessed celebrities that I read about in the gossip column of the New York Post (I thought I was justified).
But that night, when I did my daily examination of conscience and tried to look at myself honestly, instead of feeling self-righteous, I hung my head in shame.
For years, I’ve considered myself eminently qualified to judge my co-workers, my friends, my wife, my kids, my pets, people in the news, the White House and Hollywood — it’s a long list. Then, I’m humbled when I remember Pope Francis’ words, “Who am I to judge?” Not to mention my mother’s advice, quoting Thumper in the movie Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.
It’s not that I consider myself better than, say, the Kardashians — I’m certainly not as rich or good-looking — but their decadent lifestyles seem to invite criticism. Regardless of the judgment I think they deserve, Jesus thinks differently, I’m sure. I’m judging, I’m criticizing, I’m condemning. And he’s supposed to do the judging, not us. Or as he said, we should focus less on the speck in our neighbor’s eye and more on the piece of timber in our own.
I always cringe when I hear the Gospel that says: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven ... ’”
I’ve heard it a thousand times, but forget its importance when I return to daily life and think, “What fun is there if a guy, or gal, can’t gossip and criticize other people?” They didn’t have water coolers in Jesus’ time, so the temptation to backbite may not have been as great.
My father once shared some practical wisdom with me that he acquired after 25 years in Alcoholics Anonymous. Whenever you’re tempted to take someone else’s inventory, you should immediately stop and pray for the person — and take your own inventory instead. That seemed like a lot to ask, especially since some people don’t deserve prayer as much as a kick in the pants.
He also told me to ask Jesus for the grace to see myself as he sees me, warts and all, which can be a truly sobering experience. The crazy thing is that sometimes we condemn people for the same flaws we have and don’t even realize it. As they say in AA, “You can’t see the picture if you’re in the frame.”
That night, my prayer was for the Holy Spirit to let me know when I’m judging someone and send me the grace to stop. I also asked to see the people I’m judging as Jesus sees them so I can focus on the good and not the bad.
Every day, we meet repugnant people we’d love to avoid by walking across the street or leaving the room. They can be self-centered, nasty, greedy and dishonest, and yet Jesus puts them in our path for a reason. Perhaps to pray for them.
In addition, we never know what the other person might be going through, what hurt and humiliation he may be carrying around inside, what illness she may be suffering or what loss and emotional pain he or she lives with.
The only way to let Christ’s love flow into the world is to ask Christ to let us see others as he sees them, especially those who are difficult to love. Stop and say a prayer. He’ll answer it and fill you with his love for even the most annoying people. It’s something I’m working on. I’ve also decided to take another step in the right direction and bring bottled water to work so I can stay away from the water cooler.