We view people through filters all the time. When we’re mad at our sibling, we may say we’re sorry for hurting them, but we say it through the filter of hate and vengeance. We get asked a question by a stranger on the street, and we reply through the filter of suspicion and distrust. Some filters are good. They keep us safe from harm at times. But far too often, we use filters to communicate our discontentment with the way others are. We use our judgments as a weapon of pride and self-righteousness.
Filters are a bit hard to explain, because they’re very seldom a verbal message. They’re like stereotypes. They make themselves apparent through body language, eye contact, and vocal tone. They’re usually most visible when two completely different people collide. When a well-to-do teacher comes into contact with a lower-class mom, the teacher is likely to view the mom through the filters of “I’m better than you” and “your poverty is probably your own fault.” The mom, on the other hand, is likely to view the teacher through the filters of “your wealth makes you a bad person” and “you don’t really care what I think.” This only provides a mess of distrust and prideful judgment. Truth is not being searched for. Love is not being held high.
Loving different kinds of people can be difficult. I know that I often view my siblings through filters of “you’re always annoying,” “you’re not as smart as me,” or “you shouldn’t be more skilled than me.” These are hard for me to ignore because I’ve subconsciously built them up over many years of interaction with my brothers. Sometimes, they reflect a degree of truth. For example, my brothers are annoying sometimes, and I am smarter than them sometimes. But when I hold these to be truth all the time, it’s not only unfair; it’s comfortably prideful and sinful of me.
A truly beautiful thing is to see two people overcome their predispositions towards one another and decide to be honest. When an understanding nerd and a loving sports jock come together, the nerd can appreciate the jock’s passion for his sport, and the jock can see professionalism and intellect in the nerd’s studies. Breaking down barriers like these is a huge step toward honest, loving communication, and that’s something our world desperately needs right now.
If we were able to destroy our filters and view everyone as a “real person,” I think we would begin to see a completely different world open up to us. We would see faces and personalities where we once saw only empty shells in our shallow judgments. We would start to truly love people. We would begin to view the world through Jesus’ eyes.
“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:10-13
Jesus loved people. He wasn’t selective in the individuals he addressed and respected. He was gracious and flexible, but he always spoke the truth, no matter what the circumstance. He never sacrificed truth in favor of reputation. If anything, he used truth to love others more. If we were able to communicate in this way, we would have one of the greatest joys available to us on this earth: friendship. But not the cliquey, exclusive, comfortable friendship we often talk about and experience. I’m referring to the messy, intimate friendship that’s often created in the midst of tragedy or unique shared experiences. This kind of friendship leads us to a greater understanding of not only the other person, but of ourselves and of how to love others. And the best part is that we don’t have to wait for these kinds of relationships to come into our lives. In fact, we should take the initiative to go and seek out those whom God has called us to love.
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14
We all want to be understood. Not one of us enjoys being disregarded, humored, or “put on a shelf.” But that’s exactly what we do when we use filters in our interactions with people. We need to learn to follow the golden rule when it comes to appreciating and pouring ourselves into others. We often long for just one person in the world to understand us! Please, God, just one person who “gets” us! But are we trying to understand and “get” the strangers around us? Are we selflessly sacrificing our time, our fun, and our pride for the sake of really connecting with another soul? Once we begin, as a body of Christians, to reach out and wholeheartedly love our neighbors, we will likely notice others reaching out to us and honestly loving us. But the circle has to be started somewhere. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes one brave, humble individual to begin renewal and bring life back into God’s people. You can be that change. All it takes is to think of others first.