A while back, I was on a flight to Hawaii where I sat next to a man wearing a knit skullcap, sweat suit, sneakers, and dark glasses. As I do whenever someone sits next to me, I said hello. But then, I immediately thought that he must be one of those hip-hoppers. And because if my innate belief about hip-hoppers, I formed an opinion that was negative. I assumed he wasn’t smart, was into drugs, and was denigrating toward women. So, while I was initially courteous, I had nothing more to say.
There was silence between us, except when I expressed the obligatory ‘excuse me’ when I passed him to go to the lavatory. Then ninety minutes into the flight the attendant offered dessert and an after dinner drink. He surveyed his choices: hot fudge, sundae, cheese cake, or amaretto. Laughingly he said, ‘I’ll pass, thanks, I’m on my way to work.’ On his way to work from San Francisco to Hawaii, and no cheesecake or sundae? What could he be doing? Curious as to what he meant, I asked him what he did for a living?
He replied that he was a mariner.
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
For the next thirty minutes I listened to his stories of living at sea for four months at a time. And I actually learned some new things! As I listened, in the back of my mind I was embarrassed at how I had prejudged him. I thought to myself ‘how often I do that?’ How often do I make assumptions about people based on the way they look, on how they dress, the car they drive, where they live, who they love, where they went to school, their skin color, their familial associations, or their religious beliefs?
As I thought about it, I realized that I do it way too often. Why is it so easy to constantly judge others? Because there is a payoff, and to many people, it is worth it. When you are judging other people, it feeds into an existing belief that you are either better or worse than they are. Either way, you are the loser.
There is always a price to pay for pre-judging people. Your pool of available friendships is limited. Your client base and your team of business associates are narrowed. Your knowledge is inadequate because your source of information is restricted to only those who think like you. Finally, judgment makes you angry, and anger is unattractive because it eats away at your spirit.
So be honest with yourself. How often do you rush to judgment? Your intentions may be good and you may sincerely believe that you are open-minded and judge everyone equally. But I invite you to go beyond your defensiveness and rationalizations, and really examine your beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors about people you perceive as being different.
In the next twenty-four hours, I invite you to be aware of how many times you prejudge people you come into contact with. Just pay attention to how often you look at someone and then form a negative opinion about him or her without having all the facts. If you are honest with yourself, the results may be quite shocking.
Now what can you do to be less judgmental? For one thing, you’ll be less likely to rush to judgment if can try to see something in everyone that you can personally relate to. For at least a moment, put yourself in his or her shoes. That would be a good start.
Don’t forget it’s an esteemable act to not judge a book by its cover.
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