“Don’t interpret others, let them interpret themselves.”
I first heard that quote from my friend and colleague, Kevin McClure when we were serving together on the staff of The Master’s Institute Seminary in St. Paul, MN. That simple thought that Kevin shared has served me well for over a decade now and I think it is wisdom for each one of us and for our country today.
We live in a culture that rushes judgment. We feel compelled to interpret other people and situations immediately. In regard to others, we interpret their words, their thoughts, their actions, and their motives. And most of the time we do so without really knowing them well or having all the facts before us. We rush to interpretation without ever taking the time to dig deeper and find the facts because the 24-hour cable news cycle and social media culture will no longer allow us to.
It does not matter what flavor of cable news you choose to watch, nor what your favorite cable sports talk programs happen to be. They all share one thing in common. They seem to feel the need to comment right now on a news story without actually doing due diligence to find out “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. There is pressure to rush to judgement and to offer our condemnation and to assign blame, all built on our interpretation of others’ words, thoughts, actions, and motives. And too often our interpretation is imperfect and incomplete.
We would all be well served to heed the following admonition: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking” (Romans 12:2, The Message). Whether we are Christians or not, let’s do the hard work of thinking honestly about the example that is being presented to us by some of our national and local government officials, and some church leaders. Instead, let’s have the intellectual integrity to say, “No, that is not the way I am going to behave, that’s not the way I’m going to respond.” Let’s refuse to kowtow to the demand of immediacy that our cable-news and social media culture demands of us.
Christians and non-Christians alike, let’s be truly counter-cultural in this instance. Let’s change the atmosphere by choosing to slow down and not rush to judgment nor condemnation of others. Let’s instead choose to treat one another with respect and dignity, especially in those moments when we may disagree with each other.
I like author John Ortberg’s quote – “When Jesus looked at people, he saw the image of God. He saw this in everyone. It caused him to treat each person with dignity” (Who is This Man?). I am convinced that were Jesus walking alongside of us in the world today, he would exhort us to not be quick to interpret others, but rather treat them with dignity by allowing them to interpret themselves. With that in mind, might I suggest:
- Fox News, treat CNN with dignity and vice versa
- President Trump, treat Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi with dignity – and vice versa
- Republicans, treat Democrats with dignity – and vice versa
- Men, treat women with dignity – and vice versa
- Christians, treat Muslims with dignity – and vice versa
- Co-workers and neighbors, treat one another with dignity
- Affluent citizens, treat the poor and immigrants with dignity – and vice versa
The list could go on and on, right? It could all fall under Jesus’ exhortations for us to love our neighbors as ourselves, even to the point of loving our enemies. The teaching and wisdom of Jesus is needed now as much as it has ever been. Christians and non-Christians alike can learn from Jesus’ words and his actions. We’ve tried blaming and vilifying one another. Why don’t we dial down the rhetoric and vitriol, and give Jesus’ teachings a try?
Let’s not rush to interpret one another. Let’s slow down, ask questions in a respectful and dignified manner, and let the other interpret him/herself. Just this one thing would go a long way toward changing the atmosphere in which we live.