I don’t know about you, but I often get pulled aside by folks for a little “private chat”. Most often it’s about something I’ve said or done, so I’m always ready to listen and to figure out how best to deal with whatever the situation might be. Sometimes, however, it’s a “word of caution” about somebody else, a little warning that such-and-such is a certain type of person, or has a reputation for something-or-other, and I should be careful with them. There are times when that cautionary note is accompanied by the phrase “you should be careful who you deal with because people are watching.”
The implication of these little conversations is that I don’t want my reputation sullied by associating with, well, you know, “those people”. I know that usually there is no malice intended and that the folks that take me aside are genuinely concerned that I always appear in the best light, but those little cautionary tales have a very different effect from what is expected. When someone takes me aside to caution me about somebody else I usually end up being far more wary about the teller than the person they’re telling me about.
Of course, if I’m being warned about a violent criminal that might cause me or those around me harm, or being informed that someone needs extra special care because they are particularly sensitive due to a challenging life situation, I’m all ears. To be protected or to know to protect someone is important. But when it’s about one person’s perception of another, I always take the news with a great number of grains of salt. I know that people mean well and I appreciate their concern, but I also know that there are always two sides to a story and that it’s important for me to hear that story directly from the person being talked about.
In any case, as someone who always tries to see the best in others, I find that I can get along with most people. And, if they are less than savoury in the eyes of others, I don’t really care how that reflects on my reputation. Christ talked with the good and the bad folks. He didn’t care about His reputation; he cared about the people he was with and loved them not because they would offer him a leg up or make Him look good, but because they were deserving of His love. That’s it, that’s all.
I am indeed cautious with how I appear. I am cautious that I appear (and genuinely am) loving and caring towards all people and that what people see in me is a reflection, however pale and poor, of Jesus Himself.