Indulge me two paragraphs, one philosophical and one personal, and I will do my best to encourage your regard for others.

Consciousness is a weird thing. Weirdness 1: The privileged access I have to my own consciousness. What I think is what I think I think, and there’s no way around it. I may be wrong about the temperature in the room, but I’m not wrong about whether I’m hot. That might not seem too weird, but just how unique it is becomes apparent when you consider Weirdness 2: The privacy my consciousness enjoys from you. There is no possible way you can ever gain access to my consciousness. I can tell you about it. You can speculate about it. But you can never actually encounter it. It’s far more isolated than I can point out in a single already-barely-tolerated paragraph. This is why a child can use a stomach-ache to stay home from school—not based on a real case, of course. Privilege and privacy, two of the most important aspects of consciousness, put us in the peculiar position of knowing our own experiences exactly as absolutely as we cannot know others’.

Preaching has constantly provided me with a perfect laboratory for experiencing and demonstrating the reality of privacy. Nothing is more disconcerting to a young public speaker, teacher, or preacher than someone in the audience (and it’s almost always more than one person) offering either disinterested or even hostile expressions in return for the speaker’s hard-wrought, world-changing utterances. Oddly, though, despite our confidence about how well we read people (and we all think we are better at it than we are), I have found in my 39 years of preaching that I am practically never right about what looks like the obvious meaning of a person’s visible response to my sermon. Angry looks have proven in reality to be humble contrition, at least by the personal testimony of hearers who have approached me during the invitation. And a demeanor of sincere introspective humility is sometimes nothing more than trying to make it to lunch—as when I approached a parishioner who I believed had resonated with my sermon and might need some attention.

Our tendency to dismiss or despise others because they seem…well…unseemly depends on our belief that we understand why they are acting so. But we don’t. We are not perfect interpreters of others’ motives. Further, even if we were, we would not know what shaped or informed their minds for that day. And finally, I suspect we would be mortified if we knew how people interpret our demeanors and behaviors.

Such being the case, here is encouragement 1: listen more. Solomon and James put a priority on listening more and doing everything else less. Give people time to tell you what you can’t know without hearing them out. Give others the ear you wish they would give you. Encouragement 2: give the benefit of the doubt to everyone. Moses and Jesus make the equal treatment of all central to morality. All of us, though fallen, bear God’s image, and with it, the command to treat each other as God’s proxy.

Have a beautiful week serving the representatives God sends your way, everyone! (Yes, “everyone” is ambiguous.)