What Other People Think

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

There’s a parable about a man and his young son who set out from their tiny village to go into town to buy provisions.
When they started their journey, accompanied by their little donkey, the boy was riding the donkey while the man walked. “Look how cruel that is,” people along the way said. “That healthy, young boy riding the donkey while his poor old father has to walk.” So, stung by the criticism, the man and his boy switched places, but the people said, “Look how cruel that is! That big strong man riding, while that poor little boy has to walk.”
So, the pair continued their journey but now both were riding the donkey. And the people said, “Look at the poor little donkey having to carry that heavy load!” And, finally totally fed up, both the man and the boy walked beside the donkey, but the people said, “How crazy is that! A strong, healthy donkey, and no one’s even riding it.”
After walking several more hours, the man and his son finally arrived at the town – carrying the donkey!
In your Christian life, should you worry about what other people think of you? The answer is yes and no.
If you’re doing something wrong, something that’s contrary to God’s will, something that’s imprudent, the answer is yes. As professed followers of Christ, when you scandalize others, that scandal undermines your witness and gives others an excuse to sin. And about those who cause others to sin Jesus says, “It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea.” (Lk 17: 2)
On the other hand, if you’re doing virtuous things and keeping the Commandments; if you have to make a controversial but righteous moral choice, you shouldn’t worry about what other people think. “Be not troubled about those who are with you or against you, but take care that God is with you in everything you do. Keep your conscience clear and God will protect you,” says Thomas á Kempis in “The Imitation of Christ.”
So, the moral of the story? As long as you’re doing good, don’t worry about what other people think or say. After all, it’s really hard to travel the road to holiness with a donkey on your back!
Something to think about: Has there been a time in your life when people criticized you unfairly? How did you react?


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