We walk through life, we see others pass by, we make a judgment, we keep walking. Every once in while we have the opportunity to stop and talk to someone and our judgements are confirmed or more often, we learn we are wrong and a new judgement is created. Typically these exchanges are brief, but long enough to confirm or deny our belief. But every once in a while, we are given a gift, a gift of time with another person and we learn their story.
Each of us has a story, it is our story, a story of pain, of joy, heartaches and love. We have failures and successes, highs and lows. Our story is unique and special and often, for many, not shared with many. When we are given the gift of listening, of having another person open up and share their story, our hearts opened to being slightly less judgmental when we look at the next person passing by.
I have been given the gift in my personal and professional life of hearing many stories, each one surprises me. I have learned that the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is very true when you apply it to people. I have met women and men that on the outside look so strong and secure. They have created a life of success and a life I look at and admire. But once they open up, they have come from a place of great pain and heartache. From homes that were not safe, from relationships that cut them to the core, and yet they decided to not be a victim, they are living as survivors. I have also met those that from the outside look like their lives are full and fulfilling, but once they shed that outer protective layer, I learned that they are scared, insecure, and sad. They keep the outside “looking pretty” to hide the ugliness they feel within. I have learned through both that I can’t assume from how “pretty and perfect” someone’s life appears, that their life is truly full.
I have also had the gift of meeting those that when judged from the outside only, one would assume they live an unfulfilled life and yet they are full, they are truly living. They don’t live with the “stuff” that others have, but they have found that “stuff” is just that, “stuff”, and no matter how much of it you have around you, it does not make your life richer. Typically it just complicates it.
So while it is human nature to judge, it is through work and understanding of yourself that you can be less judgmental and more open to the stories. I used to get angry if someone cut me off on the freeway, now I don’t. Sure, I get upset that this person is endangering my life and others, but I also feel sad for them. I think about why they are driving that way, what is it that they are missing that makes them want to drive so carelessly. When someone is in line at a store and they are agitated and annoyed with the wait, I think about how I wish they could just take the moments they are given with the wait and just be within themselves, and to not be scared to go there. I remember that they have a story and they may be in a great deal of emotional pain, so I try to engage them, maybe with, “Ahh, nice to just stop for a minute and relax” or mention something about the weather, or even just a smile. I have had countless experiences where I know that for a couple of minutes out of someone’s day, I have been able to distract them from their inner conflicts and possibly change their path for that day, because I remembered, “you have a story”!