This quotation comes from Dr. Sri quoting his mentor June Jordan. Dr. Sri points this question at the medical profession—Why is the outbreak of ebola not news until the threat crosses American or European borders? Why do African American women like June Jordan receive unequal care when suffering from the same diseases as white women?
I took this question to heart and began inquiring into suffering on a daily basis. When I’m driving a car and someone is refusing to turn right on a red light, why is it that my impatience is more important than another person’s safety?
When I threaten my sons with no video games unless they complete their homework, why does my need for order matter more than their need for play or rest?
I quickly noticed that I often judge people before I empathize with them.
Jeannie Kawajhy tells a story from her childhood about a girl who got pregnant and had a baby out of wedlock. It was a great shock and this girl was being ostracized by her friends, the town, and, even, her own family. Finally, the girl scout leader came forward and said, “You know this girl needs our support, encouragement, and help; she does not need our judgment.”
I’m going to make an intention to look for ways I can empathize, support, and serve when I feel judgment arising.
At a meditation circle on Tuesday, a dear friend told the story about her grandaunt who had a “marvelous temper.” She was working at Aravind Eye Clinic in India. One of the janitors didn’t do a very good job keeping the clinic sterile, so she raged at him. Dr. V., the founder of the clinic and this woman’s brother, witnessed the scolding and called his sister into his office.
“Were you yelling at his body or at his soul?” he asked. “Because if you were yelling at his soul then that is God’s territory.”
When I judge people, too often, I judge their soul. Our criminal justice system mirrors this prejudice. “Once a felon always a felon.” Once accused of a crime, your suffering doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve heard people say things like, “they deserve to be raped in prison.” Let me be clear here: NO ONE deserves to be raped in prison or anywhere, ever.
When we judge another person’s soul, we forget that they too are the Divine, regardless of what their bodies have done. Mother Teresa said, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”
Everyone’s suffering matters to ascendant masters like Mother Teresa. I’m no Mother Teresa, but I can make an attempt to judge less and serve more. I find that this practice lessens the suffering in the world, not only the suffering of others, but also my own.