“Be kind, for everyone you know is facing a great battle.”
Philo of Alexandria
Don’t judge what you don’t know, because you just don’t know.
I was in the checkout line with my small pile of necessities for dinner-makins plus a large box of Haagen Dazs chocolate almond covered ice cream bars (don’t judge. It was one of those days). The woman in front of me was fussing over her items as the clerk was scanning and carefully bagging her groceries. “No, no, no!” she snapped at the clerk, “I don’t want those things put together.” She hastily took a couple of things out of one bag and put them in another. “I like them like this!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, ma’am,” the clerk was patiently accommodating. When her things were organized just-so, she paid the bill and walked out the door.
My turn. Her prickly attitude made me a little more conscious of my favorite clerk. I flashed a warm smile, “Looks like you’re having another busy day!” It was a feeble attempt to undo the bad energy that had just wafted through his checkstand. He smiled, trying to hide his embarrassment. And just as he was scanning my Haagen Dazs, the lady returned, this time without her bags.
She stopped at the edge of his counter, leaned in closer to the clerk and said, “I need to apologize for my snapping at you.” Her face carried a whole new demeanor. “I have been going through chemotherapy and I’m feeling out of sorts today. Please accept my apology. I should not have treated you that way.”
I think at that point my face carried a whole new demeanor. Her gracious apology was stunning, but learning her backstory cast a whole new light on the situation. With a little more info, she was no longer the prickly lady, she was a warrior fighting a tough battle whose kind heart reminded her of someone else’s pain above her own.
Now, this experience was special, but we might never know the reason behind someone’s unconventional, not-the-way-You-would-handle-it behavior. When someone looks or behaves less-than-ideal, Dare we judge?
There is a Backstory
We have a neighbor who lives in the court just around the corner. If it weren’t for where he parks his car, we might never had taken note of the guy.
His favorite parking spot is on the street at the end of our driveway. Every day, twice a day, we either see him getting in or getting out of his car. He’s slender, older, white hair with gray mustache and beard. The jeans, boots, and rough exterior make him look like a Hell’s Angels retiree. Normally, one might be intimidated by his presence, but there is a humbleness to him. He walks with a pronounced limp and he never makes eye contact.
For years now, whenever we see him, we’ve attempted the neighborly wave hello, but he never looks up. “What’s the deal?” my kids have asked.
“I don’t know, guys” I said. “But there is a back story there.”
“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even when they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”
We humans seem to carry an arsenal of Judgment for anyone who does not fit our standard of quintessential civil behavior. And when someone is out of the norm – our norm, we’re trigger happy.
Be careful. Those bullets can devastate just as much as the physical ones.
Ex-nay on the Udging-jay
Before we are tempted to extend the kind of Judgment that fuels our Disappointment in others – there is a simple yet expansive phrase we must remember: You just don’t know.
Remember this the next time your knee-jerk reaction is to jump to conclusions that someone is a complete jerk, or that they need an attitude adjustment, or a make-over, or that they should be doing better than they are.
I have been around long enough to know that there is a story behind every behavior. Shoot, I’ve even kept my own pain hidden in full view and thought, “Oh boy, if they only knew…”
You just don’t know if:
- Their diagnosis has left them unsure of their finances and future.
- He just received a text message saying that the relationship is “over.”
- The bullying has whittled her worth and now she is questioning if she can go on.
You just don’t know if:
- Before he was the school janitor, or your waiter, or grocery clerk, he was a doctor in his homeland.
- Her spirit was broken as a child by unspeakable things.
- He wakes up every morning thinking he is about to fail.
- She is exhausted for not having slept through the night in months.
You just don’t know if:
- One horrifying experience has left him with PTSD.
- Her brave face is a veneer to hide the anguish from another morning beating.
- They have experienced a devastating loss that will leave a hole in their hearts for the entirety of their earthly existence.
- Today is especially hard, for a number of reasons, and she is simply doing her best.
As a matter of decency, suspend judgment by reminding yourself, Don’t judge what you don’t know, because you just don’t know.
“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself. For thou that judgest doest the same things.”
We all have our good days when we’re flying pretty and showing life our A-game. We also each have a backlog of hurts and happenstance that stoop our shoulders and give us a pronounced limp. Don’t judge another’s limp against your A-game. That isn’t fair. The karma of life will surely one day have you limping and you will need another’s kindness to help see you through.
We are all in need of grace and mercy.
Withhold judgment as a practice of your faith in what is true, compassionate, and bigger than today. Because when you stop judging, you open yourself up to something quite extraordinary.
“Avoiding conclusions can be a monumental act of love.”
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