I remember waiting in line a coffee shop once, and a woman drove over my foot on a mobility scooter. She didn’t look back to apologise. At the time I did have a thought that a person would usually have said sorry, but I let it go because, well, you never know.
Shortly afterwards, I found myself sitting at the next table along from her. She was flustered and was on the phone. It turned out she has MS and this was her first day with a mobility scooter. She wasn’t confident driving it and took refuge in the coffee shop, only she struggled to control it with having never driven one before.
She was upset because she’d stopped earlier and struggled to get it started again. She was worried about being stranded if it happened again so was asking the shop if there might be a fault and if someone could come and check.
I felt such compassion that I nearly cried. I also felt so guilty because I had judged her, even if for just a second. I remember beating myself up afterwards for even having had the thought in the first place.
The thing is, in life we really can’t know what a person is experiencing, or has experienced, in their life unless they tell us. We form all sorts of beliefs about people, whether this person is a good person or that person is a bad person, based on one or two interactions.
I try to be gentle with people, but I expect lots of people have judged me based on their interpretation of a single instance. And I’ll bet the same is true for you, regardless of the type of person you try to be.
We form much of our emotional world through perceptions of people and circumstances, but these are not truths, only beliefs.
I find it helps in finding some peace by reminding myself that I can’t know what influences or shapes a person’s actions without knowing their back story, and what’s currently happening in their life. Doing this allows us to step back from a situation and take a breath. Most of the time, judgement falls away and understanding or compassion at least has a chance to surface.
Be gentle with people. Be patient. Try to be understanding. And forgive yourself when you’re not. We’re all just trying to do the best we can.
Copyright 2020 David R. Hamilton PhD.