Beyond First Impressions

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

A while back I was caught in a major traffic jam on my way to work when a humongous truck, an eighteen-wheeler, was trying to merge into traffic from the entrance ramp. The behemoth was right next to me, lurking over me, edging ever nearer. “No way it’s getting in front of me,” I said to myself as I pulled up even closer to the car in front of me. You see, I really hate driving right behind huge trucks.

But then I saw the driver’s face in his side mirror, and my attitude changed. “It’s not just a truck; it’s a human being behind the wheel,” I realized. “Probably a good guy, with a wife and a couple kids, living in a modest home, working hard, just trying to make a living,” I thought. And as my attitude softened, I slowed down and let him and his truck merge in front of me.

Seeing the real person in every situation is important and it’s something Jesus did all the time. He didn’t just cure diseases, welcome the outcast, raise the dead, and forgive sins as a gratuitous exercise of his power. Jesus looked into the heart, understood the human condition, and knew exactly what those interventions would mean for each person he touched.

It’s also something our Holy Father Pope Francis has taught us in his pontificate. When the Pope insists on caring for immigrants, the homeless, the beggar, the elderly, or the ill, he doesn’t first emphasize the need to change laws or institutions. He urges us first to open our hearts and eyes to see the person in front of us. “The attitude we must have toward the poor is that of true commitment. This commitment must be person to person, in the flesh . . . A poor man must not be looked at with disgust; he must be looked at in the eyes. Sometimes it may be uncomfortable, but we have to be up to the task.”

It’s a good challenge for us, isn’t it? To see the person with their own histories, problems and every day challenges, in everyone we meet – a store clerk, a teacher, a nurse, a landscaper, a telemarketer, a social media troll, and yes, a truck driver.

Something to think about: Looking beyond first impressions and seeing the human side of every situation is a good Christian habit, a way of growing in the imitation of Christ.