What are your distinctive moral qualities? How do they differ from the next person?
When people pass you by, what do you think they see?
The phrase “content of character” is often associated with a brilliant speech given in 1963 by Martin Luther King Jr, where he spoke to the masses about a desire for his children to grow up in a world where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but rather by the content of their character. Today, this is still an ideal held by millions of people but is still far from reality over half a century later.
From a spiritual perspective, it surely is the only place where our true value can reside, in the spirit of the heart and mind that we all possess. Our genetic phenotypes may express themselves in facial features, height, weight and all sorts of other labels we like to compartmentalized each other with, but this represents only a small portion of who we are as a whole. Martin Luther King Jr, himself was a pastor of a baptist church for many years and found solace in the teachings of Jesus, who left the world with one single new commandment that revolves around the judgment of character, or lack thereof. John 13:34 summarizes what our striving in life should be centered in, and that is love for another and no separation.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. [John 13:34]
There is a genius in this simplicity of a singular code to follow and not a lengthy step-guide to life. That sheer depth and difficulty in the proposition at hand is where we falter. Do I myself actively put this one simple proof into practice on a regular basis? The answer, in short, is an absolute NO. I mean, sure, Sunday comes around and I find myself in the pews at church and I’m regrounded back to a state of nonjudgmental care for my fellows, but as the week progresses and I’m faced with varied confrontations and responsibilities, my threshold for unconditional love and forgiveness for my fellow man slowly morphs and fades. Stress kicks in and I turn into an animal again. My spirit turns from a place of kindness to a competitive Darwinism where ugly unwarranted fears stockpile in my mind. At this point, my fellow man is not a brother, but a threat to my well-being. My primal limbic system kicks in and it’s no wonder I walk through life driven by an anticipatory judgment of others – I’m in survival mode.
Can you relate?
I can personally attest to the separating power of erroneous judgment. My rash surface-level appraisals of others are rarely sufficient, and leave me with my back against the emotional wall. When I meditatively reflect on my days, it is fear that continuously places me at that self-protective prejudice towards others. It is an insidious part of me that never seems to fully dissolve, regardless of the work I regularly do around it. The self-centered lens in which I view life is mind-blowing. Constantly investing my energy into how others will view me, and attempting to manipulate it to my favor. I find myself checking my own reflection in the mirror of building windows, I stick my chest out and walk with purpose in large crowds, I preemptively become aware of just the right amount of force I’m going to apply to handshakes to ensure that I’m conveying to others an authority in social prowess. I relentlessly think what others perceive about me. Some may tag this as a cat and mouse game of hiding from my deeply rooted insecurities, but I have examined these dark alleys of my mind in varying degrees of introspection, and I assure you there is more to it than a simple lack of worthiness.
While I wish I was an outlier when it comes to this kind of reactive thinking, I’d argue that it is actually the norm. But, when it comes to personal development, spiritual seeking, and professionally guided introspection I am very much an outlier, and yet I still find myself this kind of disconnected state. For the majority of the population, this reactive state takes place unconsciously, and as the stillness of mind needed to connect the dots is immense. It is only through such a huge investment of my life that I have dedicated to diving invasively into my mind and spirit that afforded me the space where I can press pause on this startling interaction of the mind. This is a luxury I don’t take for granted and wish others would double down on, but this elusive skill is very much in low universal supply.
So the next time you catch yourself fully centered in self, remember that your fellow man/woman is probably fighting that same insane battle in their own mind. Instead of separating yourself by popping your chest out and propping your head high, you might consider softening your gaze and offering them an empathetic smile. God only knows the ripple effect that this simple acknowledgment of being might make in their life and the lives of others they interact with.
The power resides with, and in you. The love starts with you.