I had the opportunity to travel to my uncle’s ranch in South Africa for a two-month visit. During this time, I learned that the staff who worked on the farm played a weekly soccer game against neighboring farms. I asked if I could join sometime, but they quickly said no, it wasn’t possible.
Later, one of the men explained to me that they wanted to keep the games to just the Xhosa and Zulu workers as participants – it wasn’t personal, but they weren’t comfortable with me joining in. My cousin told me that I was excluded because I was white; this soccer game was something they could call their own, without having to share it with whites or with the boss’s family.
Knowing well the history of race inequality in South Africa, I felt my cousin’s explanation of what was really behind the decision to exclude me gave me perspective and much compassion. I wanted to show them the kind of person I really was, and follow the golden rule of treating them as I would want to be treated. I strove to continue to treat them with respect and straightforwardness. I knew this could only help lift any labels being put on me, as well as any labels the staff might have had put on them.
I’ve been particularly helped by the Lord’s Prayer when praying to address situations that involve labeling of any kind (see Matthew 6:9-13). Jesus introduces it to his audience by saying, “After this manner therefore pray ye.” To me, this introduction is saying “pray with this attitude – the spirit behind the words.” So, for example, in the opening line, “Our Father which art in heaven,” part of the meaning there to me is being willing to accept that, in Christ, Truth, the family of man is one, all residing with the Father.
A spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, given in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy, brings even more light to the first line of the Lord’s Prayer. It states: “Our Father-Mother God, all-harmonious” (p. 16). God is our Father and Mother, and this perfect Father-Mother knows us as spiritual, holding us in heavenly harmony. If God is “all-harmonious,” then as God’s children, we, too, must express harmony, spirituality, and goodness. Our role, then, is to treat others with love and respect, as brothers and sisters in Truth. It’s not up to us to make others agree with us if we feel mislabeled. Given all the history behind their decision, it would have been insensitive of me to try and convince the staff at my uncle’s ranch to look past the color of my skin and let me play. But it was my responsibility to treat them based on the truth that we are all children of the same God.
A couple of weeks later, I was reading out on the lawn when one of the young men came running by and asked if I was willing to join their team that day. They were short a man for that afternoon’s soccer game. I happily agreed, and we proceeded to play. Although I got a few funny looks from both my new teammates and our opponents, I was able to prove my worth to the team, and we enjoyed a thrilling match. Just before we were about to stop, a huge rainstorm rolled in, and instead of ending with congratulatory high-fives, we concluded by helping each other home in the torrential downpour.
As we were making our way back to our respective lodgings, one of the men pulled me aside to thank me for joining them. He said he would like it if I played with them for the rest of the time I was on the farm. I was really grateful for this fresh welcome, and I enjoyed some lovely talks and new connections with several of the young men during the rest of my time there.
I am so grateful that I can turn to God – God being the only one who can really label us – and listen to His guidance in how I should respond to anyone, in any situation. No matter the labels that others may give us, we have the right to act from the basis of what we are truly made to be: God’s children, and therefore brothers and sisters to everyone we meet.