Liking Your Neighbor

I know how to spot a liar. They touch their face. They don’t maintain eye contact. Sometimes they sweat. Sometimes profusely. And my friend, Anna, didn’t do any of those things when she said these words, “I can’t think of anyone that I don’t like.”

This is the thing: I thought everyone didn’t like people, and we were all just keeping mum about it. I thought we all had a consensus not to bash people out loud, so we just let the internal conversations rage. But I began to think that maybe I was the only one who doesn’t like people. Then, I took an informal poll of my other friends, and I discovered I am not alone in my disparity.

I began to embark on a scientific and profound examination of my own head and heart and blackened soul: what makes me not like people and why can’t I stop? What I discovered was sad (okay, more pathetic than sad). God forgive me, but when I meet someone, I assign him/her to one of two labels: 1. I’m in love with you already or 2. Eh.  And this label determines all my future interactions with that person.

When I am “in love already” I ask him questions. I am interested in his life. I smile, willingly. I sell my car to buy him a new cardigan.  But if my small mind has labeled him “eh,” I don’t try anymore.  Maybe I would pick up his pencil if it fell at my feet. But maybe not. In reality, I would probably just avoid him if I saw him in the grocery store.

My first impressions dictate all of my future actions and that makes me sad, and I wish it were different, so I asked Anna her secret. She thought about her words for a while before she said them, and I leaned so far forward in my waiting that I almost got a cramp.

Then she said, “Before I meet someone, I just think, I’m probably going to like this person.”

At first I thought, Seriously? That’s it?  

But then I thought, it makes sense to choose to give people a chance.  To decide the impression you will have of someone before you interact with him. To understand strangers as fellow creations of God and not someone who has to earn favor with me. What if our mindset in meeting and interacting with our neighbors, literal and otherwise, was “I bet I’m really going to like who you are”?

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Christians, at least the ones that I spend a significant amount of time with, like to say things like, “You don’t have to like people to love them.” This seems like a nice, backdoor remedy to being annoyed with that guy who makes the offhand political jokes about the guy you voted for and still feeling like an upstanding believer, but I don’t think that it’s true. When I don’t like someone, I don’t go out of my way for him. I don’t care about her more than myself.  I don’t attempt to bear his burdens. I am not patient. I am not kind.

Call me crazy, but I think you have to like people if you ever want to love them. 

Liking your neighbor seems like a powerful, small revolution, and, apparently, God thinks it’s pretty important. In 1 Peter 4:8, scripture reads, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” People deserve to be known in the context of their story and not in quick glimpses of them while they are holding up traffic or taking all the pineapple pizza from the Pizza Hut lunch buffet.  How much easier would it be to like the people around us if we strive to understand them in the context of their life and not in the brief moments that they cross our path?  I want to join the ongoing revolution of viewing people as three dimensional; existing before they meet me and after they leave me, as a part of a story, and as a result of an intentional creation of the God I serve.  Sorry it took me so long.

Shannon is a graduate student learning to read and write. And she’s married to a man-of-a-man with a pony tail.

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