It happens on a small scale, and it happens on the global scale. "They" are on one side, and "we" are on the other. From "our" point of view, "we" are most definitely the victims. "They" are the victimizers. We're right. They're wrong.
But what if we're on the wrong side, and we don't even know it? One time, I was absolutely certain I was right, and "they" were wrong. Only, as it turned out, they weren't. I was. Although it was a very small issue, I've never forgotten the lesson.
It all began when we had a garage sale. Our wares included a whole set of silver plate flatware in a chest, several ash trays, some furniture, boxes full of books, and ... a large mantle clock.
Ah, that clock. My husband's father collected everything imaginable, and he'd handed this clock on to us. It didn't work, and he didn't want to fix it. Neither did we, and we were a little annoyed he'd passed his junk along to us. So we put the clock out, hoping to get a good price.
Shortly after we opened, a couple from two streets over showed up. They were dressed rather shabbily and didn't speak well. I realize now that I didn't hold them in much regard. The man asked us the price of the clock. We told him. We also told him we couldn't fix it ... but were sure someone else probably could. He paid our full price, and the couple walked away with their treasure. I'm afraid we felt pretty clever.
A few days later, we happened to be speaking with an antique clock dealer, and he told us that our clock, which we described to him in detail, had probably been worth some money - quite a lot of money.
To make a long story short, I went over to the neighbors' house and told them that the clock had belonged to my father-in-law (true enough), that I'd been hasty in putting it up for sale (also true), that even though the clock probably couldn't be fixed (still true) and wasn't worth much (not so true), I felt it should stay in the family (outright hypocrisy!), and that I would give them their money back. In fact, I said with great generosity, I'd even throw in something free for their trouble.
But they liked the clock. And they wanted to keep it.
The negotiations went on for some time, but the bottom line was: They'd bought the clock, fair and square, and it was theirs, and they weren't going to give it back.
You may not believe this, but I felt I was right. The clock had belonged to us, and I honestly didn't think these people would ever know or appreciate what they had. After all, I was the one who'd been cultured enough to go to the antique dealer. I wasn't in this for the money anymore. I'd found out how special the clock was, and I wanted it in my house. At this point, finally, I tried to pray. Still, it was difficult to get past, "God, please show these people that the clock belongs to us."
But the next morning, I thought of the story in the New Testament of the Bible when Cornelius had a dream that told him to send men to Joppa to find the Apostle Peter and to bring Peter back to meet with him. Meanwhile, Peter also had a vision, in which he was presented with food that was considered unclean by devout Jews. When Peter refused to eat, he heard a voice saying, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." Peter listened for the spiritual intent of that dream. He realized that he was to accept Cornelius and his emissaries as equals. He exclaimed, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons" (see Acts 10:1-35).
This was enough for me. Like Peter, I accepted this message as coming from a divine source. I went to my neighbors and apologized - they could keep the clock. I felt great. And twenty years and umpteen moves later, I'm glad I didn't keep that clock. Plenty of others have taken its place!
I learned that when I come to a stalemate in the negotiation process with my "neighbor" - whoever that happens to be - I can humbly ask God to guide me. Then, I have to be willing to accept that divine inspiration unquestioningly - because there's going to be an answer I'm going to be very, very happy with.
I might even become friends with them.
Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)