Don’t tell my kids, but I’m afraid of spiders. Not in a “get on a chair if I see one” kind of way, but more in an “I assume every spider I see is a brown recluse” kind of way. They’re hairy, equipped with more eyes than any single animal should possess and are also into “sport biting.” Unlike the cockroach, another much maligned insect, a spider will bite you while you’re sleeping. You’re not threatening it, or talking smack or approaching with a rolled up magazine. You’re sleeping. And then the spider bites you. Why? For the love of the game.
That’s one of the reasons I had a hard time watching the show “Fear Factor.” They were constantly making people lay in coffins full of spiders. The other reason I didn’t watch that show was Joe Rogan. He always struck me as an aggressive bully. He seemed angry for no reason and fired up beyond measure. He’s jacked, often the most intense person at Ultimate Fighting Championship events (which is a difficult feat to accomplish) and got into a public verbal sparring match with comedian Carlos Mencia.
I might like to think I see people the way Christ does, but the truth is, all too often, I don’t. I pegged Joe Rogan. I judged him. I put him in a bully box and moved on.
But then something weird happened.
I heard his story.
In an interview, Joe Rogan shared how when he was four and five years old, he witnessed his father brutally beat his mother. Though they would later escape, watching that broke Joe in a way no kid should ever experience. In the conversation with the host, Joe mused about how his fascination with karate and bodybuilding is might be connected deeply to his desire to protect himself from physical violence. That maybe if he was strong and knew how to fight nobody could hurt him.
Do you think what I thought about Joe Rogan was different after I heard his story? Of course it was. And that’s because stories often cripple our ability to judge someone.
When you hear someone’s story, they are no longer just an idea or an object, they become a human. They become a five year old who had terrifying things thrust on them or a 12 year old who never learned what it feels like to be safe or a single mom who is trying to balance three kids, a job and a million other responsibilities. Stories make 2D people 3D. And in the process, they make it nearly impossible for you to judge someone.
That’s one of the things I love about what folks like Donald Miller and Ben Arment are doing with storytelling. And it’s one of the things I find really interesting about Christ. He always knew everyone’s story. While others saw a woman at the well, Christ saw a wife who had remarried and remarried and remarried as if maybe next time, the next husband would be the one to fix her. He didn’t just see someone drawing water at a well. He saw an individual with a story.
And often when confronted with a question, that’s how he answered, with a story. He didn’t just talk in sentences, he talked in stories a lot too. He talked in prodigal sons and fathers who run when dirty kids walk and unexpected parties with older brothers who are bewildered by the concept of grace.
I don’t know if you ever struggle with being judgmental, but I do. I often reduce people to the mistakes they’ve made in life. I see them as the sum of bad decisions or think I’m better than people or a million other things that mean, “I become the older brother.”
What if instead of jumping to conclusions about people, I walked into stories about people?
What if I could create space for someone to tell their story to me instead of listening to the story I tend to make up in my head about them?
What if instead of judging, I looked for stories?
Would that change things?
I think it would. Loving people that way, listening to people that way, looking for stories that way would change the way I lived. And it might just create the kind of story in my own life I’d like my kids to tell their kids when they grow up.