‘Well, THAT Figures!”

The other day I was driving with a colleague of mine to a meeting, and we came to a four-way STOP intersection. Where I live these are everywhere, and the “courtesy” is that you have to wait your turn. Each car at each of the four stops gets a chance to go in order, and then the next one, and the next one. For the most part, the system works pretty well. On this particular day, we were sitting waiting for our turn and when it came, and we started to go left, the car across from us (turning right to go on the same street) went out of turn and went in front of us. I guess he thought he was closer, so what difference would it make?

As we pulled in behind him, we saw a sticker for a presidential option for 2012 on his car’s bumper. My colleague muttered under his breath, “Well THAT figures!” I asked what, because I didn’t understand his thinking. “Anyone who would be voting for that particular person has to be a jerk in many areas of their life!”

I don’t want to note which presidential option we were discussing, because everyone’s filters are always at work and it might color your own opinion of what transpired, but I found the situation fascinating. As I went into my own Interested Observer mode to check my reaction, I realized that I was mentally agreeing with my colleague. And yet, how could we know anything about the individual driving the car? How could we even know that it was HIS car? My husband has bumper stickers on his own vehicle that I would never have on my own (and in fairness, it’s probably vice versa!) so even when I am driving his car, I’m not thinking the same thoughts he might have about certain issues or people.

And yet my colleague and I were quick to categorize this individual from one small encounter at an intersection, and from a bumper sticker on the car. We don’t often realize how quickly we read another individual and make an assumption about who they are and what they are all about.

Who hasn’t had the experience in either direction – where you met someone that you instantly disliked, but then over time came to really like and enjoy that person? Or where you believed you knew someone, only to find out there were aspects they were hiding from you and they weren’t the person you believed them to be at all?

More importantly, as I observed our reactions with the driver of the car that day, I asked myself why I had to judge him at all. What difference did it really make to my life whether he engaged in the perceived “infraction” or not? And how much time was I – along with my colleague – going to waste even thinking about his actions or his political leanings?

This week, be aware of where you are losing your time and your energy to situations where you quickly judge and then possible ruminate over that judgment. If you find yourself assuming something about another person, harken back to where you might have done this in the past and been mistaken. It’s not the other person we are hurting, ultimately it truly is ourselves when we don’t approach others with an open mind and a desire to understand them – objectively.

---Beverly Flaxington

Author, Understanding Other People

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