I remember one time when I was little, I made fun of another kid who had a disability. When my mom heard me, she said something I have always remembered: But for the grace of God go I.
What she meant was that it was only by God’s grace that I had a certain level of intelligence and could navigate through life a bit easier than the kid I was teasing. I hadn’t done anything to ‘deserve’ a fully functional mind or the correct number of chromosomes. It just happened that way.
I think about that statement every time I catch myself looking down on someone who is less fortunate than myself. Because the reality is, I don’t know their situation or upbringing. If my circumstances were different growing up, or if I had a different set of genes, I could be right in their place. And I believe that is true for any type of person I might look down upon, from the homeless person, to the drug dealer, or even the rapist and murderer. I have that potential. I believe we all have the potential to find ourselves in terrible circumstances doing terrible things. But for the grace of God go I.
Recognizing my privilege, as well as my potential for darkness if my circumstances were different, helps keep me humble. Sure, I try my best to work hard. But a lot of the nice things I have in my life are due to my favorable circumstances, rather than my own effort.
This perspective also helps me to have compassion for those less fortunate than myself. I am more likely to see the shared humanity in others, rather than distance myself from them or morally disengage from them. The awareness of shared humanity increases my empathy and compassion.
Discussion: How do you view others who are less fortunate than yourself? How do you interpret your favorable circumstances? What strategies have you used to help you experience empathy and compassion for those who are struggling?