Jim lived down the hall from me in my first year in college. It wasn’t long before everyone in the small dormitory knew each other, so everyone knew who Jim was; but nobody knew him very well. He was a small guy and looked like he was about fourteen years old. He was extremely shy and quiet, and kept to himself. He said nothing to anyone, and people left him alone. He would be seen at classes and at meals, but not many other times. While most students were meeting new friends and groups of friends were being formed, Jim was not a part of it. He was in the most advanced math and science classes, so we figured he was probably smart and studying all the time. Nobody knew and nobody cared. Jim was just there, an odd guy who was ignored by everyone.
Then one of the guys in my group of friends got to know Jim a little bit. They were lab partners, so they had to talk to each other. Much to his surprise, my friend found out that Jim was a pretty good guy. He was still quiet, and, he had his quirks (like any other normal person). But when he did speak, Jim could be really funny. It wasn’t long and Jim was a part of our group and became a good friend to many in the school. He was small and quiet so when someone started calling him ‘Mouse’ the name stuck. He accepted his new name with good will and humor, which was characteristic of his whole approach to life. Jim was a likable, easy going guy; he didn’t ask for much, was just happy to be here, and quietly accepted whatever life dealt him with gratitude and without complaint. When no one paid him any attention, he was okay with that; and when he became very well liked with many friends, he was okay with that. He seemed more content with life at age eighteen than most people ever are. He wasn’t asking for or expecting anything from anyone. Jim was just a good friend, and once people got to know him, he was respected and liked.
There was another guy in our freshman class, whose real name I do not even remember. His nickname was ‘The Gent,’ as in the gentleman, because of how he dressed. He always wore a long-sleeved white shirt and black pants, and his short hair was always neatly combed. Therefore, he stuck out like a sore thumb among those who were more in style then with long hair, tie-dyed t-shirts, and frayed, bell bottom jeans. I don’t remember anything else about The Gent, because he, like Jim, was quiet. But unlike Jim, I don’t remember that The Gent ever made a single friend at college. And, he did not even finish out the first semester. One day someone just happen to notice that he wasn’t there anymore. As I think back, I wonder what kind of guy he really was. Maybe he was a good guy, too.
I would imagine most of us have said at one time or another about someone, “He’s not too bad once you get to know him,” or, “She’s really pretty nice once you get to know her.” That is what everyone said about Jim. It was impossible for him to make a good first impression. He was so quiet that he was not noticed enough to make any impression at all. But once people got to know him, everyone saw he was a good guy.
Two years later, I got to know Jim even better. Jim, another college friend, and I moved out of the dorm and shared a small apartment for a year. When you live with someone you get to know them on another level, and I learned that though Jim was a good guy who didn’t ask for much out of life, he was not a saint. He had his faults, as we all do, and the three of us would have the usual disagreements and scraps that can come with living in close quarters, even among the best of friends.
People are complex, and it is our foolish sinfulness that makes us so often see them on only one level. Jim and The Gent were both seen as as quiet and strange, and were avoided. Someone else who is quiet might be seen as arrogant and too good to talk to others, when really, they too might be only bashful. Someone else might be a little too outgoing, and is quickly written off as a loudmouth. Another made some questionable decisions in the past, and is from then on written off as a moron or a scoundrel. Each are being seen on only one level, and decisions about them are being made with insufficient information. People are complex, and there is always much more going on that the little bit we see. It is not easy to see a person as they really are, and we never have enough information to fully understand anyone. (continued…)
Galatians 5:14 — The entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:22-23a — But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Jude 1:10a — These people slander whatever they do not understand…
Ephesians 4:32 — Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
(attributed to Plato, Philo, John Watson, Ian MacLaren, and others)