One Christmas, when we were living in Brighton, England, we volunteered at a church that regularly feeds the homeless and needy at this time of year. But it was more than the hungry ones who got fed that day.
After we happily dished out large helpings of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, followed by pudding and custard, we watched most of the recipients light up a cigarette and/or take a large swig of alcohol.
Feeling somewhat righteous, it seemed like a perfect time and place to suggest they change their habits, so we talked to the pastor about doing this. He told us off quite clearly: “Johnny Walker is some of these people’s best friend. They got 20 good friends in every pack of cigarettes. Alcohol and tobacco is what these folks need to get through the day. In my mind, anything that helps them do that is to be grateful for, not to be made wrong.”
That was a deeply touching lesson for us: how to respect the choices we all make, whether we agree with them or not; how to be completely accepting and non-judgmental; and to realize how easily elitist we can become.
This was echoed by a friend who recently went to help with the refugees in Greece. She was dismayed and said how, “Within 15 minutes I had thrown out my 30 year-old vow to never use plastic water bottles. All people needed was water, and a plastic bottle was the safest way to get it to them. In that moment I was confronted with my unrealistic and elitist attitudes.”
Our vivid life is recognizing the equality in all beings.