Creating caricatures

Sat, Apr 28, 2012, 01:00

Thinking AnewHAVE YOU EVER formed an opinion about someone without having spoken to them? In tomorrow’s Gospel we read that one of the shining characteristics of the “Good Shepherd” is that he knows his own people.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep”. (John 10:14-15). I probably will regret saying this, but I have a terrible failing of making up my mind about people long before I have ever justification to do so. Sometimes I might get it right. I can also get it terribly wrong. But is it not true to say that from time to time it is a temptation to which we all succumb? There is something about the human condition that leads us to believe, without thought, that what we do and those with whom we associate are on the right side of things.

We are often slow to engage in any serious way with people who differ from us.

No matter where we work, we want to believe that our company, our firm, our movement is in the right. The more senior the position, the more pronounced this becomes.

It would seem we always give precedence to our cause or the institution and then we expect other people to fit into that particular order. How we rate and understand them, sympathise with them depends on our perception of how we think they look on us.

We never know the full story of any person. We might come close to understanding our parents, but even that seems always to come later, maybe when they are dead. Wives and husbands sometimes get to know each other, not always. Scottish author, Douglas Galbraith in his book My Son, My Son, describes how he comes home from work one day to discover his Japanese wife and their two sons Satomi and Mokoto have taken off and gone back to Japan.

No one ever gets inside the head of another person. No one ever discovers the complete mystery of the other person, so in that sense it might be possible to say that none of us is ever completely appreciated.

It’s so easy to give names to people and once we do that it’s quite easy to see them in that particular light or shape.

We are forever building people up into images which are so far from reality and we also destroy people by never fully appreciating their good side.

We easily say that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Easy words to say but do we live it in our lives? It seems so many of us begin our engagement with other people with an arsenal of hunches. We do it with people, we do it with nationalities, we do it with cultures, we do it with religions.

Tomorrow’s Gospel describes the characteristic of the Good Shepherd as being someone who knows his people, knows them for what they are and understands them in the way that they would wish to be understood. But that same Gospel is challenging you and me to think and behave in a similar fashion.

It’s so easy and tempting to create caricatures and stereotypes.

It can be so difficult to try to understand the other person and see her or him for who they are and what they are.

Only last week I received a note from someone who has an unwholesome reputation. He has a dubious track record in relationships with other people but there is also a gentle and good side to him, which I have seen and experienced.

Not for a moment am I suggesting that we go easy on wrongdoers, but if we did as tomorrow’s Gospel suggests maybe we might encourage the hardest of people to let their good points be more easily seen.

Tomorrow’s Good Shepherd story could turn the world upside down.

If it stops us in our tracks from forming stereotypes of other people then it certainly is worth reading with care and understanding.