Friday, October 24, 2014

The Least of These

If you passed the Savior on the street, or sat beside him on the bus, what would you do? Would you awkwardly pretend you didn't notice him because you are too involved in your current text messaging episode? Would you play it cool with a subtle nod of the head to acknowledge His presence and then continue along in silence? Would you fight the urge to run up and hug him because he's probably too busy for you? Would you say hello?
    Suppose he was staying with you in your house. After the initial excitement of Him being there, how would you treat Him throughout the day? If His presence became normal to you, and He were always there no matter how busy, tired, hungry, happy, sad, irritated, goofy, or bored you were, would you treat Him differently?

I was taught the Golden Rule before I was out of diapers, and all my life I was told that I ought to treat others as the Savior would treat them. Some mothers teach their angry children to count to ten. Mine taught me to ask, "What would Jesus do?" All my life I've striven to ask myself what the Savior would do in a given circumstance, and then to do my best to imitate what I imagine He might do.

When my little sister was being a brat, I'd think to myself, "How would Jesus treat a bratty girl?"
When I saw a poor man on the street, I'd think to myself, "How would Jesus treat a bum?"
When older girls were mean to me, I'd think to myself, "How would Jesus respond to a bully?"

Then one day, it occurred to me... could it be that I had it all backwards?

Could it be that we really ought to treat others, not just as the Savior would treat them, but as if they truly were the Savior Himself? Not labeling them as "bratty", "bum", or "bully", but as Divine and worthy of praise. After all, isn't that what the Savior told us to do when He said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto ME"?

Could it be that if I were to treat people as glorious beings, over time I would come to recognize in them the divine attributes that they possess? Or better yet, would they come to see such qualities in themselves? Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can be, and he will become what he should be."

C.S. Lewis, too, had a lot to say on this subject. "It is a serious thing," said Lewis, "to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whome we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment." -- C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

One person who exemplified treating others as they had the potential to become, was my little sister, Risa. Anyone who spent even just a few minutes with her was made to feel like the most special, important person in the world. It's hard for me to think of a time when she considered anyone to be less important or interesting than herself. She would smile when she saw you and sing out your name as if it were the sweetest of praises, and her eyes would sparkle with the joy of one who felt lucky to be in your presence.

Imagine if we all treated everyone we met in that way. If we were to talk to the strangers on the bus, the other students on campus, our coworkers, our family members, our friends, and even those who are unkind to us as if it were an honor and a joy to be in their presence, how would it affect them?  Better yet, imagine if we did this so often that it came naturally to us, and we actually came to see it as a true honor and a joy to be in the presence of such people!

Whether those with whom you interact would change for the better or not, you can bet your life that you would change for the better.