The Atlanta airport was crowded as people were waiting to board the plane to New Mexico. I scanned the area looking for a seat.
Excuse me, sir. Is this seat taken? I asked with a smile.
The man looked up, smiled back and said, No, help yourself.
After settling in with my Starbucks and Kindle, I noticed the man began to fidget just a bit. He looked over at me and said Real ladies don’t have tattoos.
He then got up and walked off.
This wasn’t my first rodeo with someone who had thoughts about tattoos but it had been awhile so I was taken aback for a minute. My first thought was Real gentlemen don’t act like jackasses either! (Of course this creative comeback was after he left…probably just as well…sigh)
My second one was Dear God, please do not let him be seated next to me on the plane! (In His mercy, God forgave my first thought and granted the second.)
This man had no idea who I was, where I was from, what I did for a living, where I was going. Nothing. Except that I had a tattoo and he had an opinion.
Kind of ticked me off a little.
I wasn’t going to share this story but then I read an interesting passage a few days later in Luke 7 with a line that caught my eye.
Jesus gets a dinner invitation from Simon who was a Pharisee. While there, a woman of apparent scandal comes with her alabaster jar of perfume. She kneels down and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair then proceeds pouring the perfume over them.
Instead of recognizing this intimate act as one of asking for forgiveness or one of worship, the Pharisee was disgusted that a.) she is a sinner and b.) Jesus seems to be oblivious to that fact. Maybe this Jesus guy wasn’t who he said he claimed to be after all. (v39 paraphrased)
Jesus then turns back toward the woman and says to Simon, Do you see this woman?
Funny question. I imagine everyone SAW. But did they really SEE?
Simon looked at this woman and only saw a sinner. Jesus looked past the sin and could see a woman.
How many times have I looked at someone and not been able to really see them because I couldn’t get past the outer appearance or my preconceived opinion or my own arrogance? How many times have you?
In her book Braving the Wilderness Brene Brown talks about how the dehumanization of people starts with calling names and forming opinions based on assumptions. (Everyone should read this book!)
The moment that man in the airport looked at me, saw my tattoo and immediately summed me up as not a real lady…I became less human in his eyes. He didn’t really see me, only my tattoo.
Dehumanizing happens when we jump to judge and no longer lean in to learn.
I can think of several ways that people are being made to feel less than. The following are just a handful, maybe you can share more. It’s when we…
Look at an overweight person and assume they are lazy.
Walk past a person of a different color than us and clutch our purses tighter or assume they think they are high and mighty.
Look at a person whose lifestyle is different than ours and not see them, only their “sin”.
Walk past a homeless person and assume they don’t want to work.
Look at the single Mom paying with food stamps and tsk, tsk.
Look at a person’s political stance and immediately assume you are either a snowflake and stupid or cold hearted and callous.
We form opinions about people as whole groups without ever getting to know any one in particular. We look but do not see, without ever hearing their story.
Why? I really don’t know. Do you?
Maybe it’s easier to judge than to learn. Maybe if we got to know someone we would have to get down off our high horse (everyone has ridden one at some point), change our opinion or, heaven forbid, our way of thinking.
Maybe if we really took the time to see the person and not be so quick to critique we would realize that they are more than their weight or sexual preference or political side or skin color. Maybe there’s a story there that you have no idea about.
Maybe if we took a minute to listen and learn we would understand how the homeless came to be living under a bridge or the addict got to where she was or how that Mom became single.
Maybe if we stopped looking and started really seeing, we would show more kindness, compassion and learn to love people who think different, who look different, who act different, realizing we are ALL human beings needing to be seen, valued and loved.
Since practice makes perfect, let’s practice this…
No more name-calling.
No more jumping to judge…let’s leave that to God.
Stop LOOKING and start SEEING.
Imperfect progress is still progress and sure would make the world a better place.