The other week I was playing table tennis with a young person. The way he was acting was annoying me: arrogant, over confident and brash. To be honest, I wanted to knock him down a peg or two. I thought a cheap shot might be to beat him at table tennis, yet but the more I tried to beat him, the worse I became! I started missing easy shots until I fluffed the easiest shot and bounced it off right into the net to hit me! The young person turned to his mate sniggering, before mimicking my shot. He said something in his mother tongue to his friend, clearly directed at me. I switched and snapped back,
If you’ve got something to say, say it to my face, so I can understand it.
Well this completely took the young person aback, he fobbed me off with something about a joke about a mutual friend of theirs at school. I raised my eyebrows as if to say ‘whatever’, preceding a semi awkward exchange where the young person knew he had annoyed me and I knew I had lost control of myself and my pride. Awkward. (Here’s a Blog I wrote about awkward youth work).
It reminded me of time I felt this sense of awkwardness and dislike for this type of behaviour before with another young person I used to work with. They both have the same age, ethnicity, and similar appearance. The other young person’s behaviour completely wrecked a residential trip that I was organising, which ended up costing additional money, and destroying relationships with young people.
I had not forgiven him!
Firstly, I should say that I understand these are young people and they have their own insecurities which this behavior is covering up but this is not to say I don’t have my own insecurities, and they don’t rear their ugly heads every now and then!
This got me thinking about despite the fact I try and work with young people as they present themselves to me, I have prejudices. I pre-judging young people, all the time. Part of this is in how I can judge a situation to be safe or to require further support,
but part of this is simply my own blindness, fear and dislike of the ‘Other’.
Jesus, human as well as divine, had his own prejudices, yet he allowed compassion to overcome them: to overcome pride, racial barriers and assumptions. In the story of Jesus’s encounter with the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), Jesus meets a women whose gender, race and position as a gentile makes her three times unclean. She is referenced as a ‘dog’ by Jesus – this is indeed how others would have seen her. Yet Jesus overcomes the social prejudice and in compassion, heals her daughter. Some have suggested that this encounter is a two-way exorcism: the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter is freed from her unclean spirit, and an unclean spirit of residual ethnic chauvinism is cast out of Jesus. However we understand this story, Jesus’ example seems to be that as we humble ourselves and find truth in confronting our prejudice in honesty, it is the Other, the victim of our oppressive stereotypes and prejudice, who holds the key to our own transformation and liberation.
In that sense we find God even as we stare at our prejudice, for we are confronted with the truth within ourselves.