I profess to be a Christian and thus believe that Jesus calls us to love one another – even our enemies. Of course this moral call transcends Christianity and most faith traditions have a comparable moral code. Even people of good will who profess no particular religion usually have an inner sense to try to be a loving person. But… does loving humanity mean I have to agree with others or like them all? Of course not. I can call out evil and we humans may disagree on what is the right thing to do in conflictual situations.

So, lately I’ve been contemplating my inclination to judge some people who seem to have different values than mine or who just see life differently from me. I’ve been struggling with judgmentalism.

Example #1an irresponsible neighbor. On my daily bike ride I noticed that a house several blocks away always had a lot of garbage strewn around their yard. I never saw the resident, but in a fit of altruism, I decided one day to go over and picked up the trash that overflowed into the curbside area and street. Another neighbor saw me and thanked me. I felt virtuous. A couple days later I rode by and a different neighbor stopped me and complained. He said, they were hoping the offending neighbor would be evicted since this had been an ongoing problem. Had I helped or hurt the neighbor? What might be going on in the offending neighbor’s life that caused her to act so irresponsibly. Might she be struggling with financial, emotional, or relationship issues? Maybe an illness? I don’t know.

Example #2a difficult relationship. One of the social groups I belong to has a person who has alienated many of the members because of their frequent complaining. I shared this judgement but mostly kept it to myself. One day, however, the individual must have detected my judgmental feelings and confronted me. It was a hard conversation and I don’t imagine we’ll ever be close friends, but we need not be enemies.

These two experiences have taught me something about myself and how I judge other people. It has pushed me to look deeper into why people do things that seem anti-social, or make them difficult for me to like. Instead of focusing on the other’s offense, likeability, or political opinion that differs from mine, I’m trying to ponder what in the other’s history might have caused their behavior. Perhaps they had a troubled childhood, some hurtful relationships, feelings of inadequacy, or simply a different life experience from my own. Certainly I have my own baggage that others might find unappealing.

From these experiences, I find myself moved to humility, compassion, and more careful listening. Before I jump to criticizing and judging I’m trying to remember that for some people I might be the difficult person that they are trying to love.

Who do you find difficult to love? Why? How do you strive to love better?