By Hailey Joy Scandrette
When I was 8-years-old, my dad shared with me about how he was trying to work on his judgmental tendencies by going 40 days without saying anything about people that he hadn’t said to their face. Because people have jokingly referred to me as my dad’s mini-me since I was five, I knew that judgement would likely be part of my struggle, too; so I decided to start my own practice to get myself in the habit of looking at others with love and a desire to understand instead of judging. It was a small practice: any time I was on the train or the bus I’d look at the people around me and try to focus on the beautiful things about them. If someone looked strange to me, I’d focus on how unique they were and how wonderful it was that they picked clothes or a haircut or make-up that they liked instead of what was normal. If someone looked agitated or scary, I’d try to think about what might have happened to make their day hard for them or imagine what good things I might not know about them.
It was a good practice to work on cultivating empathy and combating my first impressions, but even as trying to imagine the people I encounter with complexity and compassion has become second-nature, I still struggle deeply with what it means to love people well in my life. It’s easy for me to empathize with and seek to love the people I’ve grown up around–in San Francisco that means immigrants, LGBT folks, people of every (or no) religious background, people who live on the street or in the parks, people who struggle with addiction, people who are mentally ill, etc.–because I’ve seen parts of their lives play out right next to mine. I can imagine where they’re coming from and why they act the way they do and, even when their choices differ greatly from my own, I am eager to understand how they got to where they are today. I can recognize in our goals and dreams common desires to be loved, safe, and connected to something bigger than ourselves. I don’t love these neighbors perfectly at all; I’m still held back by my fears and desire for comfort more often than I’d like to admit. But I want to love them and it’s easy for me to envision what that would look like. It’s much more difficult for me to figure out how to love people who don’t understand my neighbors the way I do. It’s hard for me to love people whose values and judgements run counter to my own. Ironically, it’s hardest for me to figure out how to love people who I see as being too stuck in their own fears to love people who are different from them. In other words, it’s often harder for me to love people who I’m afraid of becoming, than people who are different from me. I want to work harder to recognize the journeys people are on that are harder for me to imagine and empathize with. I’m working to see what each person has to teach me and how I can love people wherever they are on their journey.
However, justice and mercy are, for me, key aspects of loving others. I’m not naturally a very brave person, but love is one of the few things that motivates me to stand up for what I believe is right, even when doing so is scary. So I am trying to learn how to balance both of these things: to become better at loving people who hold views that I feel are harmful, and to stand against injustice in the name of love. I don’t know exactly how that looks for my life, but it is well-modeled in the life of Jesus. Jesus flipped tables and pissed people off, but he also loved unconditionally and showed compassion to people who were marginalized by society. That’s the kind of love I want to show the world: table flipping, radical, unconditional love.
Author Bio: Hailey Joy Scandrette is a senior at San Francisco State University studying US History, and Counseling. When not ears deep in primary source analysis and note taking, she enjoys thrift shopping, writing, climbing trees, and going on long walks with her friends and family. She is passionate about social justice, living incarnationally, loving and serving others, and almost anything else that she has any opinion on.