Once a month I chair a meeting of about forty people. It starts at 9.00 am, but recently I’d noticed that people were arriving late. By the time we were due to begin, there were sometimes just a handful in the room and then the rest dribbled in over the next ten minutes or so. Now obviously that’s wrong, and I could have been forgiven for asking them to make every effort to be punctual, but that’s not what I did.
As I opened the meeting and gazed out on the faithful few who were there on time, I had a bright idea. I said, “As latecomers arrive, let’s give them a round of applause!” And so we did. The first unfortunate, who arrived only a minute late, looked surprised to be welcomed with such enthusiasm and then, as the penny dropped, slipped into a seat, red-faced. There was a little flurry at 9.05, vigorous applause for the three stragglers who were seven minutes late, and by the time the poor soul – who’d no doubt already had a bad day – tried to sneak in at the back at 9.10 we were clapping as if it were the last night at the Proms.
How we laughed! I felt pleased with myself – a bit of fun and a lesson taught. Afterwards I spoke to those I’d embarrassed and reassured them that “It wasn’t just for you” and “It was just a bit of fun”, although secretly I felt delighted with my little strategy. There was only one fly in the ointment. When we had finished clapping the last person, somebody shouted out some words of Jesus: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
To be honest, I was enjoying my little ruse and feeling so pleased with myself that I hardly heard them. But over the next few days those words gnawed quietly at my brain and at 7.20 am , exactly one week after the incident, they exploded into dreadful realisation. Two things happened almost at once. First, I remembered how that quote ended: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” Second, I realised I was running late!
By the time I’d put my underpants on backwards, skipped the shower and used Dianne’s hairspray instead of deodorant, I was a wreck. I drove like a maniac, rushed up the stairs to the meeting room, and made it with thirty seconds to spare. But even as I sat smelling of Elnett, I realised that this was now my life. Every month I was condemned to the dreadful potential of being the one clapped into the meeting – accused now not only of lateness, but of hypocrisy.
I have thought so much about this in the intervening weeks. In fact, next week I will apologise to the group, not only because I now realise I was wrong, but for a much more selfish motive. I don’t want people – friends, work colleagues, spouses, even children – to judge me as I judge others.
If you want to, you can choose to go through life pointing out where others get things wrong, complaining every time somebody upsets you, constantly holding others to account, exercising your “rights” and even letting people know when they’re late.
Just get used to wearing your pants on backwards.
Originally published on – “Let me tell you a story” by Rob Parsons