“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” ~ Mother Teresa

I try, in my own life, not to judge others – but as a human being, it’s sometimes hard to do.  We seem to be hardwired to want to judge and classify people, filing or discarding them according to our own personal preferences after mere seconds of laying eyes on them.

For example, at a gas station down the street, an elderly Middle Eastern man pumps gas.  His hooked nose and deeply lined face wear a severe, unfriendly expression.  He moves slowly and does not smile.  Once, I stopped for gas when I was in a hurry.  It seemed to me that he ignored me, tending to all the other waiting vehicles first.  After a few minutes, I became annoyed and left without getting gas.

Recently, with more time on my hands, I stopped back at the gas station.  This day, there were two attendants:  the elderly man, and a younger man who could have been his son.  The younger man was smiling and friendly when he helped me, but as I sat waiting for my tank to fill, I watched the older man.  I had noticed that he always wore gloves, but they were not to keep his hands warm:  they were green latex.  I wondered if he had an aversion to the smell on his hands, or if his hands were perhaps sensitive to gasoline.  As I watched, he went to the vehicle in front of me and opened the gas tank.  Then he kept fiddling with the gas cap which caught my attention.  It turned out that the little door you open to access the gas tank had a clip at the top, through which you could thread the cord that attached the cap to the vehicle.  And he was making sure to put it in its proper place. 

There was just something about those green gloves and his delicate fumbling that touched me.  I realized that he was not necessarily a surly gas station attendant, but that there was more to him than meets the eye.  This is not to say I reversed my opinion about him, but rather that I am…reserving judgment.  Because much as I hate to say it, whether it’s as simple as putting someone in our mental file folder labeled “friendly” or “mean”, we still feel this overwhelming desire to classify and quantify so that no one we come across is an unknown quantity.  We always know exactly where they belong and thus, how to relate to them and what to expect from them.

One more example:  I am not a boxing fan, but like most other people in the general public, if you say the name Mike Tyson to me, I am going to have a few predisposed notions:  wife-beater, ear-biter, savage boxer, slightly crazy to name a few.  None of them in the least positive.

While tending bar the other day, a customer asked to watch one of the sports channels.  The channel happened to be replaying some of Tyson’s earlier fights.  I watched in astonishment.  First of all, Tyson was…well, he’s kind of small!  Most of his opponents towered over him.  But he was amazing in the ring – fast, graceful, and incredibly powerful.  What amazed me the most about him, though, was what happened at the end of the fights.

After he knocked out his opponents – which was what he did in those early days – they were both sent to their corners.  After his handlers checked him out, he would rush over to his opponent’s corner, to make sure that they were OK.  I watched in fight after fight as he helped opponents up after knocking them down, checked on them repeatedly after the fight was over, and in several instances, exchanged hugs with them.

?!?! 

This was not the wild boxer nor the savage, barely-restrained human I had come to believe he was from the media.  He seemed…nice.  Sweet, almost.

The gentleman who had asked to watch sports shared that he used to box, before a career-ending injury, and that he has an uncle who was a boxer and would spar with the professionals to help them prepare for upcoming bouts.  He had met Tyson on several occasions and said “He was a great guy.”  He explained the chain of events from then to now, how Tyson came to be surrounded by people who didn’t care about Tyson the person, only about Tyson the breadwinner. 

Reader, I tell you – I welled up a bit.  And I felt ashamed, that I had judged him so harshly without knowing all the facts.

Because really – when do we know all the facts?  When we are driving in traffic and someone cuts us off, weaving in and out like a maniac, what do we do?  Curse them out, one-fingered salute, even if we only think “jerk” to ourselves, we are still judging.  But maybe that person is rushing to get his pregnant wife to the hospital.  Maybe she is hurrying home to tend to a sick child. 

There’s always the possibility that she is, in fact, driving like a maniac because – like everyone else on the road – she is closed in her metal box, insulated from the life around her, and angry at the other metal boxes in her way, not able to see past the hard, shiny exterior to the human(s) within.

But who’s to say?  Why not, next time, reserve your judgement, and give someone the benefit of the doubt?

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