Taking Your Mugger Out to Dinner

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

Jesus’ teachings on how to respond to attack have always been challenging. In the gospels, he calls us to turn the other cheek, give the coat and the shirt off our back, and go the extra mile. In A Course in Miracles, he calls us to be wholly gentle, respond to all attacks with loving help, and cheerfully comply when someone makes an “outrageous” request of us. Christians and Course students alike, when confronted with these teachings, ask: Does he really mean it? Does he want us to literally do these things? Or is this just hyperbole meant to encourage loving kindness, not a realistic way to live in the world? As challenging as it is, I think he really does mean it quite literally. The transformative power of actually living this teaching was vividly demonstrated recently in the remarkable story of Julio Diaz, a man who took his mugger out to dinner.

The story is so amazing that instead of summarizing it, I’m going to insert the original account by reporter Kathy Hawkins in its entirety here:

When Julio Diaz stepped off the New York City subway platform after work one night, he was simply planning to walk over to his favorite local diner for a meal. But when a teenage boy approached him with a knife blade gleaming in his fist, Diaz, a 31-year-old social worker, knew the evening was about to take a more dramatic turn.

The young man demanded Diaz’s wallet, and Diaz passed it over without objection. But just as his mugger turned to walk away, Diaz called after him: “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something.”

The mugger turned around, surprised.

“If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

The teenager looked at Diaz in disbelief, and asked why he would do such a thing. Diaz replied, “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money.” He told the young man that he’d just been heading out for dinner, and that he would be happy for some company.

“You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz told NPR’s StoryCorps.

The young mugger decided to take Diaz up on his offer, and they headed into Diaz’s favorite local haunt together. As they were sitting at the table, the manager, the dishwashers, and the waiters all stopped over to say hello to Diaz, and the young man was amazed at his popularity. “You’re even nice to the dishwasher,” he exclaimed.

“Haven’t you been taught that you should be nice to everybody?” Diaz asked him.

“Yeah, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teenager replied. Thanks to Diaz, he was beginning to see that kindness wasn’t such a strange phenomenon, after all.

When the bill came, Diaz told the teen that he’d have to get the check. After all, he still had Diaz’s wallet.

But the teenager slid the wallet back across the table without a moment’s thought, and Diaz treated him to dinner. Diaz also gave the would-be mugger a $20 bill to take with him—in exchange for the young man’s knife.

“I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right,” Diaz said. “It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”

I don’t know anything about Diaz’s religious beliefs, but whatever they are, what a powerful demonstration of the way of Jesus! It reminds me of a number of his most profound and radical teachings, both in the Bible and in the Course. First, it brings to mind his famous injunctions from the Sermon on the Mount:

When someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other as well. When someone starts to sue you for your shirt, let that person have your coat as well. Further, when anyone conscripts you for one mile, go an extra mile. (Mt 39-40, Scholars Version)

In all three of these injunctions, someone attacks you and takes something away from you (even if it is just your dignity). The normal worldly response would be to counterattack in some way to get back what was taken from you. But here, you respond in the exact opposite way. Instead of counterattacking, you not only graciously give the attacker the thing he is attempting to take, but give him twice as much. Diaz did exactly this: In a situation where the mugger was demanding his wallet, he not only gave his wallet, but he gave his coat and a dinner as well.

Turning to the Course, this encounter naturally brings to mind the “call for help” idea, the Course’s assertion that “Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes” (T-12.I.3:3-4). “Everything else,” of course, refers to all of those unloving thoughts people have, expressed through some sort of attack. Again, the usual response to attack is counterattack, tit for tat. But here, you see others’ apparent attacks as calls for help and respond accordingly. “Can anyone be justified in responding with anger to a brother’s plea for help? No response can be appropriate except the willingness to give it to him, for this and only this is what he is asking for” (T-12.I.3:5-6). You can really see how Diaz did this with the teenage mugger. Instead of responding with anger, he saw the mugger in a different light: “You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help.” And he gave help accordingly.

It also brings to mind another well-known Course injunction: “Recognize what does not matter, and if your brothers ask you for something ‘outrageous,’ do it because it does not matter (T-12.III.4:1). The idea here is that you have invested in the gifts of God rather than the “gifts” of the world, so you are spiritually rich. Since you don’t have an investment in the things of the world, they don’t really matter to you. Therefore, when someone makes an “outrageous” request of you—when he “attacks” you by demanding some worldly thing or action from you—you can recognize that this demand is the result of his bad investment in the things of the world.

This recognition leads to a response that echoes the “call for help” idea. You realize that the other’s attack calls not for anger and counterattack, but for help: “Remember that those who attack are [spiritually] poor. Their poverty asks for gifts, not for further impoverishment” (T-12.III.3:3-4). The gift they need is the recognition that they can make a better investment. And you give them this gift by actually doing the “outrageous” request, since this gives them a living demonstration of one who has made that better investment: “If you have no investment in anything in this world, you can teach the poor where their treasure is” (T-12.III.1:2).

Diaz’s attitude and actions in his encounter with the teenage mugger suggest that, at least to a significant degree, he is not invested in the things of the world. He gave his wallet “without objection,” graciously honoring the mugger’s “outrageous” request. He seemed to have no qualms about giving up the wallet, his coat, the dinner, or anything else. Instead, his focus seemed to be completely on giving the mugger things that are clearly “gifts of the spirit,” whatever his views about God are: loving help, the invitation to join him for dinner, and above all a living demonstration of one who is invested not in money or things but in being “nice to everybody” and treating people right. And by the time the mugger gave back the wallet, you could tell that the lesson had taken hold: At least in that moment, his investment in the things of the world shifted into an investment in treating people right. “He was beginning to see that kindness wasn’t such a strange phenomenon, after all.”

I see in these ideas and Diaz’s demonstration of them a dramatic reversal of our usual picture of attack. In that picture, when we are attacked we see the attacker as the one in a position of strength, while we are in a position of weakness. In this view, we have to turn the tables and regain our strength by weakening the attacker. We try to get back what he took (with interest), save face, take revenge, etc. But Jesus calls us to recognize that in truth, no one can take anything real from us; we have the eternal gifts of God. (This recognition in some form is crucial; the behaviors called for here need to come from a truly healed mindset to have a real transformative effect.)

If we recognize what we really have, we will see that we are actually in a position of strength, while the attacker is (temporarily) in a position of weakness. Therefore, instead of trying to take back our strength from the attacker and weaken him, we give him the strength he needs by offering help. In Course parlance, we give him a miracle: “Miracles are healing because they supply a lack; they are performed by those who temporarily have more for those who temporarily have less” (T-1.I.8:1). This ends the zero-sum game of one party gaining strength through weakening the other, for it strengthens both parties in the exchange: “[Miracles] simultaneously increase the reserve strength of the giver, and supply the lack of strength in the receiver” (Urtext).

As Course students, I don’t think we can get enough demonstrations of this. We all sense that there’s something deeply right in the Course’s call to be “wholly gentle” (M-4.IV.2:2), and its assertion that “Safety is the complete relinquishment of attack” (T-6.III.3:7). But however much we love these teachings, when push comes to shove in the day-to-day world, we tend to revert very quickly to some version of “kill or be killed” (M-17.7:11). Whatever this lofty blue book says, it seems that if we really relinquish attack completely, we’ll just be a bug on the windshield of life.

But people like Diaz show us that this way of life doesn’t inevitably lead to getting splattered. It is a practical and realistic path that brings miraculous results. We’ve seen countless people demonstrate this. True, not everyone will immediately respond as Diaz’s mugger did; Jesus, after all, got crucified. But imagine how our world would be transformed if more people committed to responding to attacks large and small with loving kindness instead of escalating the arms race. It starts with each one of us asking a simple question: Am I willing to take my “muggers” out to dinner?

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