Jim Martin, who is a professional colleague of mine from Waco, included this story in his blog today. (Be sure to check out his blog at www.godhungry.org) Jim uses the personal story as a basis for an important challenge. However I am going to take the story in a little different direction…Here is his story:
I was in the fourth grade. “Jane” sat in the chair behind me. She often drooled on her desk. She was blond, lanky, and was physically challenged. She had difficulty with coordination and often fell down on the playground during recess. On those occasions, she sometimes returned to class with skinned and bloody knees.
One day, the class was returning from recess. Several boys were walked into the classroom and began making fun of Jane. I was already in my chair. They laughed and then I laughed. A few seconds latter I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around and Jane was looking at me with such a sad look.
“You are my friend and you laughed!”
I felt sick. No excuse. No justification. No good reason. All I knew to do was to say “I’m sorry.” That sounded pretty small and lame given what I had done. I had betrayed her.
How in the world could I have done something like this? How could I have laughed at someone who had so many obstacles to overcome and only wanted a friend?
I would like to declare my immediate innocence when it comes to such actions, but I cannot. I am quite sure I acted in a similar fashion at Wind Point Elementary School more than once. When we are in the 4th grade, such behavior is part of the growing up process. Empathy and compassion are learned behaviors.
When we are adults, we are old enough to know better. We are old enough to know that the “Jane’s” within our sphere of influence are need to some extra tender loving care. They are not to be ridiculed or shunned. They are especially not to be ignored. As Jim pointed out, Jane just wanted a friend.
I am convinced that a person’s true character is revealed based on how he behaves toward:
• People who don’t appear to possess any ability to reciprocate. (They are unlikely do anything for us down the road.
• People who are mentally or physically challenged.
• Elderly people who are feeble.
• Socially awkward people of all ages and walks of life.
• Homeless people
• Individuals who are severely disadvantaged economically
When I see someone ignoring or otherwise behaving rudely toward a human being that falls in one the above categories, it makes me wonder about their character. ANYBODY can be nice to someone who can do something for them in return. In all kinds of social settings, I see people scatter and avoid those who seemingly have little to give.
As an adult, I feel Jane’s pain. She was lonely and shut out from her fellow 4th graders. Do I think my friend Jim has poor character? Not at all! He was in the 4th grade! But I would wonder about the adults who are encountering Jane today. How are they responding to a grown woman who very likely still struggles in some ways? Does she have friends today?
The assignment for this week: Consciously observe how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us. It is not a bad test of personal character… And it could be that an unexepected and rich friendship develops in the process. But just keep in mind that “Drooling Jane” is among us today.