This morning as I drove to work, I found myself behind a car with a bunch of bumper stickers that on their face, pretty much proclaimed the vehicle owner’s political bent. One of the ‘messages’ combined religion and politics into one snarky message that, without naming a single person, made it clear exactly whom they were addressing. As I often do, I immediately decided I disliked the person behind the wheel. I even contemplated driving up alongside the car to get a glimpse of my new nemesis as though that was going to seal my suspicions about the person’s true nature. Ironically, this event served as a lesson in compassion. I forced myself to stop forming conclusions about how this person would feel about me or my friends or my vocation. And it was hard. I wanted to dislike him or her solely for what they displayed on the outside of their car. Granted, what we display to the world often says a lot about what we feel inside. One doesn’t have to be a Nobel Prize winner to know that members of the Westboro Baptist church who picket everything from funerals to religious services, hate many things but most prominently, ‘the gays.’
I’m not a bumper sticker person, myself. I don’t like to disfigure my car and I hold no real desire to express something to the world that must be interpreted in a matter of minutes by someone in a motorized cage behind me. Bumper stickers can be misinterpreted, especially if they are trying to convey a message subtly about a subject that begs for a broader perspective. I’m embarrassed to say that I draw pretty clear conclusions about people based on how they adorn their modes of transportation and I suppose that is the point of putting a message on your bumper that basically says, “I believe this and if you don’t agree, you are wrong.”
So, this morning I imagined myself meeting the person in the car in front of me and having a civilized conversation about politics and religion and tried to steer myself into appreciating their humanity. I focused on having compassion for someone despite our differences. And I thought it was apropos of what I have learned from Sharon Salzberg and in my own journey down this spiritual path. It’s ultimately about seeing the commonality not the difference.