Always look for the good in people, said Ignatius Loyola. He said “be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it.” Needless to say, this isn’t always my instinctive response to what others say and do. So I take to heart this advice from Anthony Bloom, an Orthodox theologian and bishop:
Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to him. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, what is ugly, what is distorted. Christ looked at everyone he met, at the prostitute, at the thief, and saw the beauty hidden there. Perhaps it was distorted, perhaps damaged, but it was beauty none the less, and what he did was to call out this beauty.
In France one speaks of ‘la ville d’Ys’, the city of Ys, which, because of the simpleness of the surrounding world, disappeared in the depth of a lake. Only people with a pure heart can see this city through the waters of the lake and hear the sound of its bells. This is what we must learn to do with regard to others. But to do so we must first have a purity of heart, a purity of intention, an openness which is not always there – certainly not in me – so that we can listen, can look, and can see the beauty which is hidden.
Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.