Sunday, July 31, 2011

Judge Not

Credit: Ken Smith
It's hard not to judge people, especially when they do the most ridiculous things right in front of you.

For instance, you're a passenger in a car on the highway when a truck suddenly changes lanes right  in front of you, and now the guy driving your vehicle goes berserk with road rage, honking his horn and flipping off the truck.

Or you're having a perfectly fine conversation with someone, and then they say something completely off-the-wall (usually about politics or, worse, religion), which is when you're faced with the impossible task of not judging them.

But I truly believe that judging people is wrong. And it warps you.

Walk around judging people, and, pretty soon, you become the most unattractive person in the room. I've seen it happen. I think this is why there are no pinup calendars of Supreme Court Justices.

I know this woman. She's my age, very attractive and smart. But all she ever does is run down the people around her. She is constantly firing off little anecdotes about how stupid other people are, not realizing how unpleasant this makes her. She comes off as constantly frustrated and judgmental and insensitive -- exactly the kind of person everyone wants to spend time with.

Now, it's true, we still have to react to our circumstances in order to survive. So, even though it's wrong to judge another person, it's still prudent to get out of the way if they start swinging an ax at your head.

What I'm saying is you don't have to naively embrace everyone who crosses your path. But just because someone turns out to be a violent lunatic doesn't mean they abdicate their intrinsic value as a human being.

After all, which of us hasn't made a lane change that came a little too close for comfort to another car?

Now, giving everyone (and I mean everyone) their due is not an easy way to move through the world. It requires energy and active engagement with every person you encounter. And, frankly, there are times when I just don't have the time.

There are times when I just don't have the time to be sympathetic to the overworked waiter who brings me the wrong drink. There are times when I just don't have the time to empathize with the worn-out woman who is screaming at her kids at the grocery store. And there are times when I can't be friendly to the stranger who ambles up and wants to waste my time with inane banter.

But I know better. I know that the person who made the dangerous lane change is probably not evil or idiotic. They just made a bad decision at a particular moment that could have caused an accident. I also know that the person spouting a racist & ill-informed political opinion is probably an upstanding member of the community who just happens to be completely wrong about one issue involving members of another ethnic group and their contributions to our culture and economy.

I also know that, in this world, people are what matter most. So I owe it to my principles to invest the time and energy into truly connecting with everyone around me, no matter how harried and tired I get.

But, wow, is it ever hard to not judge. I mean, someone holds forth an opinion that is ill-informed, unreconstructed, and downright dangerous, and I'm supposed to hold my tongue to give this person a chance?

What keeps me straight (for the most part) is the realization that I, too, am imperfect. I know that I am not at my best at every moment of every day. I also realize that my own self-awareness is itself as much a product of lucky circumstance as it is the culmination of years of hard-won wisdom.

You know the verse: "There but for the grace of God, etc." -- which is just a fancy way of saying, "Wow, am I ever lucky I didn't end up like that schmuck!"

Still, every once in a while, I lose it. Who doesn't? When I realize that I am losing it, which is usually in the moments after I have said something that I will regret (like, "I had no idea you were this stupid"), I do my best to contain the damage.

Sincere apologies usually do the trick. At the very least, they give me time to flee & regroup, so that I can gather myself and go back to being the best person I can possibly be.

So, yeah, I spend a lot of my time apologizing. Which of us is perfect?

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