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From: Kim Houze
Received: Oct. 16
Onions. Dissolutions of marriage. Bankruptcies. Foreclosures. Arrests = Judgment. Bitterness. Anger. Conflict. Lack of resolution. Criticism.
For months I have contemplated this letter. Not because I am better than anyone else or not guilty of being critical at times. Not because I do not have a desire to know others’ business or that I am above reproach myself.
The main reason is that I have become personally convicted and therefore more keenly aware of the way our society now thrives on knowing others’ personal information, yet we don’t seem to handle that information with grace, concern, understanding or sympathy.
The evolution of social media, the Internet, accessibility to public records and our culture’s insatiable hunger to learn all they can about their neighbors, friends and even total strangers has also bred a culture where others often become judgmental of those same friends, neighbors or total strangers because of what they have learned from these sources.
One of my favorite movies is an old film, “Meet John Doe.” The synopsis is basic human nature that is challenged by a loving, homeless man during the Great Depression:
“When newspaper publisher D.B. Norton, a fascistic type with presidential aspirations, decides to use John Doe (Gary Cooper) as his ticket to the White House, he puts Doe on the radio to deliver inspirational speeches to the masses ... The central message of the Doe speeches is “Love Thy Neighbor,” though, conceived in cynicism, the speeches strike so responsive a chord with the public that John Doe clubs pop up all over the country. Believing he is working for the good of America, Doe agrees to front the National John Doe Movement ...” (www.fandango.com/meetjohndoe_v32067/plotsummary).
In the movie, John Doe Clubs are started everywhere. Neighbors befriend neighbors. Strangers befriend strangers. Loving your neighbor replaces frustration, criticism and judgment.
Although the items mentioned above are published due to “public record” accessibility — is it truly necessary to know about the marriages that have failed in our community? Do we really need to know about the 18 year olds that made a mistake with underage drinking? Is it helpful for me to know that my neighbor had to file for bankruptcy or is being sued by a company, bank or collection agency? How does that improve my love for my neighbor? How does this information help my neighbor? More importantly, how does this information adversely affect the way I feel towards my neighbor?
You see, although we have access to public records — we are not privy to the full story. The tragic outcome of infidelity, drug abuse or domestic violence in a marriage. The loss of a job that you’ve had for 20 years that you never saw coming. The struggle that a parent has in raising teenagers in this culture of temptation and excess. The bottom line: We do not need to know the full story because we shouldn’t even know “part” of the story. If an individual is so curious about these unfortunate personal losses or circumstances – let them go to the Internet and search for public records themselves.
If you know your neighbor or friend is struggling financially, buy them groceries or pay one of their utility bills. If you know your friend is having a hard time raising their teenage children, offer them loving counsel and invite them to church. If you discover someone has lost their job, offer to type a new résumé and search new job leads. If you see that a neighbor is experiencing the pain and sadness of divorce, pray for them and have coffee with them to talk through their sadness. If your neighbor’s dog is barking all night or they’re working on their cars at 2 a.m., take them some homemade cookies and have a conversation with them.
Obviously, I know that all situations are not so black and white. We are human. Yet, I think a good first step in Columbus would be to remove some of the negative print and public records. Instead offer more human interest stories from our community about those we are making a positive impact on our young people, marriages, schools, churches or our community.
Choose kindness. Choose care. Choose understanding. Choose forgiveness. Choose love. Who knows, Columbus might be at the forefront of a brand new “John Doe Club” movement!
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