Recently I was playing golf with a friend. At the tee box on the 8th hole we were lectured and scolded by an older player about course and golf etiquette. We had a good reason for the accused action, which was not harmful to anyone or the course, but was evidently offensive to this other golfing tandem. The interaction was unsettling to me, and after finishing our round, I spent the car ride home considering what had happened. Ultimately, I felt judged by a complete stranger. Normally judgement from a stranger wouldn’t illicit much of a reaction, but it was the way this man judged me that was difficult. What I do want to suggest, though, is the weight of our actions and words on those around us.
I suspect that if this man would have approached us with a spirit of curiosity, opposed to one of condemnation, that our conversation would have played out very differently. But as it was, the interaction was quite hostile. I don’t know his story or what led him to lecture me, but I do know that his accusations and judgement were obtuse and very offensive. Were it a different setting, I would have liked to return to the conversation and re-engage with what had happened. But it wasn’t a situation conducive for this, nor are many situations in life.
Another setting that one-way judgements are plentiful is in a vehicle on the road. There are countless opportunities in 30 minutes of driving for judgement to be dished out. Again, it’s nearly impossible (nor suggested) to interact/engage with those we have confrontations with on the road (as an aside, road rage is a serious issue that is potentially very dangerous). If drivers would drive with an understanding that all of those around him are facing some difficult life situation, our responses would look very different.
I think we do this because judging others on their poor, or offensive, behaviors is second nature. It’s easy to point out the faults in/with someone else than it is to explore the reasons for the faults or actions.
Curiosity is key.
There’s a spot on the interstate on my afternoon commute that merges from 3 lanes to 2. During heavy traffic situations, the 3rd lane is used by drivers to get as far down the road as possible to prevent sitting in traffic. It’s also used by drivers who are exiting the interstate at the next exit. There are times that this lane will be blocked by another driver who will intentionally position their car in such a manner that prevents others from “cutting in line,” as it were. Almost every time, I chuckle at the sophomoric activity by seemingly grown adults. But this activity highlights my point: Judging others actions without first being curious results is harmful interactions.
The car blocking the lane has zero ability to know or understand what’s happening with the person in the car behind him (or 10 cars back, for that matter), yet her policing the lane is done so assuming that all the other people are just trying to cheat or cut in line. In the same way, the golfer who approached me had no idea, nor concern, about my situation. The end result of these two moral judgements is a displacement of peace. Which, I suppose, is very similar to how wars begin.
So, what can we learn about drive-by judgements?
1. It’s difficult to live a life of curiosity. At some point we all suffer the loss of our innocence, be it in childhood or later on, and with this loss goes the ease of being curious. We usually replace our broken spirit of being curious with contempt, judgement, and mistrust. These, unfortunately, come very easily, perhaps as easily as curiosity once came for us as children. It is much easier to react out of judgement than out of curiosity.
2. We arrogantly assume we know what is best, for ourselves and others. Though if you really consider it, the reality is we never know what’s best, for ourselves or others. We can have ideas of what’s best, but we’ll never know for sure until the benefit of hindsight is available. This is what makes relationships (parenting, marriage, friendships, etc) so difficult. At times we must act on a belief that we know what’s best, but hold fast to a teachable spirit that our decisions may or may not be right.
3. By judging first, we miss out on giving and receiving of a gift. Sometimes these gifts are ones we do not know we have, nor do we know when we give them. This is a great mystery of life: We have no idea what affect the words or actions we choose will have on another person.
The next time you find yourself dishing out a complaint or critique to someone, first ask yourself the question:
Do I know the whole story, or just a part of it?”
Your answer to this question just might create a different, and encouraging, outcome to a normally difficult situation.