When we look back in our own history or in our own memory, would we like to think of ourselves as someone who did the right thing? Would we want our children, grandchildren, or friends to think of us as someone who did the right thing?
But doing the right thing is so very hard to do sometimes. Take the metaphor of throwing trash on the sidewalk while on a walk vs. picking up a piece of trash while walking down the sidewalk.
It’s easy to throw trash down. It’s accepted behavior. Everyone does it. It’s expected. Or so says that public opinion voice in our head.
It’s so much harder to pick trash up when walking past it. We have public opinion to contend with, and we have public habits to go against. It’s true. Everyone throws trash down. If you don’t believe me, look around. There’s trash everywhere.
But who picks the trash up? Very few. We scorn ourselves for picking it up, because we know we could have been picking it up all along. But, we praise others for doing it, because they’re doing something everyone benefits from.
Yet, that someone to pick it up rarely comes along, because that someone is our self. And we know that picking up a piece of trash while walking down a busy sidewalk is the right thing to do, but we’re so embarrassed to have to do it. We’re so ashamed to have to do it. Because we know, symbolically, we’re the ones that put the trash there in the first place, maybe not in this location, but in some location somewhere. We’re the ones that ignored and walked past it in the second place.
Thank God, if we finally pick it up in the third place.
We sometimes think that only a certain type of people would pick up trash – laborers, prisoners, poor people, homeless, “the unfortunate”, – they see value in trash – (much like seeing value in people. )
We think “It’s not our job. Someone will come along and do it.” And so it stays on the ground.
And everyone passes it by, thinking, “It’s not my job.” So, it stays on the ground again. No one wants to do it. And if we think, “Who cares if it’s not my job? I’ll do it once.” then we scorn ourselves for not doing it sooner.
We have trouble picking it up also, because we’ve labeled people who pick up trash. We’ve gone and labeled people who do the right thing. And we think of ourselves the same way when we pick up some trash on the sidewalk or do the right thing.
When we let go of the labels we place on others, we can let go of the labels we place on ourselves. Then we can forgive ourselves for labeling ourselves and others.
If we wish to let go of labels, then we have to practice letting go of the labels, and practice regularly, because we are more apt to label than to let go of labeling. When we’ve been successful, we can let go of the label of “Good”, as in, “that person is a ‘good’ person,” or “Now, I’m a ‘good’ person for picking up that piece of trash.” We let go of the negative labels and the positive labels, both.
Jesus said, “Do not call me ‘good’. Only God is good.” Jesus recognized that all labeling is incorrect. Not even Jesus is to be labeled, because no label of another human is the truth – whether we think of people as “good” or whether we think of people as “trash.”