I love to sit in restaurants and make up stories about the people who are sitting around me- the young, nervous teenagers on their first date, or the older couple out celebrating the birth of their eighth grandbaby- all based on their body language and demeanor. My husband and I will play this game over a cup of coffee and will laugh at the ridiculous stories that we make up about these people based on pretty much nothing.
I wish that this was the only time that I ever made judgments about people- when they were harmless and lighthearted, and when I wasn’t acting upon said judgments.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Sometimes I judge people’s parenting. Sometimes I judge marriages. Sometimes I judge appearances. I hate that I do it, and when I catch myself, I feel bad and try to make it right. I am working really hard to not judge people, to be aware of my thoughts and to try to stop from assuming things. Whether the judgments are big or small, I know that they aren’t right, and I’ve decided that it’s time to put an end to it.
Okay, that’s not 100% true. All of that happened, but do you wanna know when I really decided it was time to stop judging? When I felt like I was being judged myself. I wish that the knowledge that judging is wrong was enough to make me stop, but it wasn’t. It took feeling the sting of judgment on myself and my children to realize that it was time to make a change.
Both of my kids look a little like me, but they look NOTHING like each other. I recently had a woman stop us in the grocery store, bewildered, and asked, “Are they both your kids?” When I replied yes, her expression was skeptical and her tone was rude as she asked, “Both of them? Really?” The look of disgust she gave me told me that she assumed some horrible history. She walked away shaking her head, the disgust still painted on her face. I could only imagine what was going on in her mind. Did she think the kids had different fathers? Did she think that I was unfaithful or unmarried or unruly? Was she disgusted that one of my children might be biracial? But at the end of the day, what in the world did it matter to her, regardless of what she’s thinking?
Now, I know that some of this is just what I felt, assumed, or imagined. The thing is, regardless of what she thought, her reaction told me that there was judgment. No part of her response told me that she had guessed the truth- that one of these precious littles was not biologically mine, and that due to circumstances beyond their control, our family had grown by one.
I hope that most people don’t outwardly react to differences or assumptions with as little tact as this woman did. Many people wonder about the dynamics of our little family, and I think that is normal. This encounter made me realize, though, that so many times, the assumptions that we make about other people (whether we act on them or not) are completely and totally wrong. My goal is to give people the benefit of the doubt, to stop the negative thoughts, and to give them encouragement and a helping hand when they appear to need it most.
When a child is melting down in the middle of a store, I try to offer a smile and a, “We’ve all had those days.”
When someone loses their cool with me for something minor, I give them grace, because maybe someone close to them is sick or hurting.
When an employee of a business I’m at is short, I try my best to be overly polite, because they may have received difficult news that day.
I know that it’s easy to take people at face value, but I have learned that smiles and support always go further than judgment and negativity. Whether judgment is perceived or actual, it hurts, and I’m hoping that I can continue to see the times when I’m at fault so that I can become more sensitive to the possibilities of what’s going on around me.