Posts Tagged kindness

Why Judge?

All day long, I judge people. Most of the people I judge are people I’ve never met. As a professional recruiter, I get paid to pass shrewd judgement on strangers. My clients expect it. They only want to see candidates who are legitimate contenders for their positions. I do the dirty work, so they don’t have to.

When I step away from my desk, I’m weary from this responsibility, and don’t want to continue it in my personal life. Perhaps that’s why I’m so baffled when others rush to judgement or treat judging as some sort of hobby worth sharing.

Recently, our country was divided by a conundrum with no sound basis for judgement on either side. Unless we were there, it’s impossible to know what happened between Judge Cavanaugh and Dr. Ford, yet, there we were, lined up on opposite sides, driven by our own dogma, loudly proclaiming what we believe to be true.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to politics. Sit with a group of disgruntled sports fans and watch the assessments (most of them highly unqualified) fly. Even worse are the Internet message boards where over-zealous fans enjoy anonymity. In my state lately, the message boards are where middle-aged men offer their assessments of the character of young football players who they have never met.

Why do we insist on judging others, especially when it’s such an inaccurate science? I did some research on this, and learned a few things.

Judging strangers is natural. Our brains are programmed with data accumulated throughout our lives, and when encountering stimuli, like a stranger’s face, they react by subconsciously categorizing that stimuli based on previous experiences. We rely on that instinct to keep us from meticulously studying every stimulus we encounter. Without it, dealing with everyday situations would be impossible.

You can’t possibly walk through a crowded public area, like an airport, and accurately judge everyone you see. There is just way too much data to process. Similarly, in my role as a recruiter, I encounter hundreds of potential candidates each day. If I devoted several minutes to my evaluation of each candidate, I would never get to the candidates who my clients might want to hire. Instead, I rely on quick judgements that are based on years of experience and are fairly reliable to help me navigate through the data. Still, I acknowledge and must accept the possibility that I miss potential talent. Judgement is rarely ever failproof.

It’s when we decide to judge someone more thoroughly that we must be most careful. Even though our subconscious might initially push us in a prejudiced direction, we need to decide if that initial judgement is accurate. One of the most interesting articles I found in my research is Why We Judge Others (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conscious-communication/201805/why-we-judge-others).

In this article, the author says that most judgements are formed either by personality or situational attributions. We tend to make judgements on strangers based on personality attribution. In other words, since we don’t know them, we use our observations to judge their personalities. We might see a young person with his hat on backwards and pants hanging precariously from his rear end, and decide that he’s threatening and disrespectful. If that person was our nephew, we would likely attribute his behavior to the situation: he’s a young man asserting his independence and individuality.

I think that’s why the Kavanaugh supreme court confirmation drama divided us so deeply. Half of us identified with Dr. Ford, while the other half identified with Judge Kavanaugh. When you identify with someone, you typically judge them based on the situation, and those judgements are almost always kinder.

I also think that it’s important to be mindful of this tendency, so we don’t unfairly judge others. When I evaluate candidates, I tend to be more forgiving with those with whom I can closely identify. That’s natural, but if I’m aware of this tendency, I can correct it and be more equitable.

This applies in everyday life too. When someone cuts me off in traffic, after I choke back my verbal assessment of their personality, I try to make a situational attribution: maybe they really need to find a restroom or they were just too distracted to realize the way that they were driving.

Judging others is an awesome responsibility that we should not take lightly. If we approached it with a little more awareness and kindness, I think that we would be happier people.

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Looking Up from a Wheelchair

He walked right up to me, shook my hand and welcomed me to the stadium. I was on a recruiting visit with my son at a large nationally ranked football program, and though we had never met him before, the record-setting starting quarterback was extremely friendly and generous with his pre-game time. A couple of his coaches and teammates also stopped by or waved my direction.

I’m sufficiently self-aware to recognize that my wheelchair, rather than my good looks, probably attracted the extra attention. I’m certain that I wasn’t mistaken as a recruit.

There was a time that I was ashamed to use my wheelchair – I can walk, after all – but using the chair has more than the obvious benefits, like moving comfortably and quickly to places that would otherwise be impossible. From that chair, I see incredible kindness in strangers – kindness that few people get to see, like that scene in the stadium.

People rush to open doors, to greet me and to ask if they can help in any way. Strangers have bought me drinks and insisted that I cut in line.

Despite the discord that captures headlines, using a wheelchair has shown me that most people genuinely care about others. Last month, I wrote about an awkward exchange with a stranger in a Las Vegas elevator, but that happens far less than the other side of the spectrum. More often, people go out of their way to be friendly and welcoming to me, and I truly appreciate that.

I’m still not completely comfortable in the chair, and only use it for longer distances or challenging terrain. On short walks, like into the gym or church, I walk unassisted. If it’s unfamiliar terrain, I use my “stick.” (I still can’t bring myself to call it a cane, and it really is a shooting stick that doubles as a walking stick.)

Physically though, I’m much more comfortable off my feet. When I’m on my feet and moving, my eyes focus on the ground in front of me, as I scan for slick spots or impediments that might knock me over. Because my attention is elsewhere, I can appear aloof and unapproachable when I’m walking, making it hard for me to notice strangers as much more than potential impediments. Most strangers react instinctively to my body language and give me space. The chair changes all of that.

Psychologically, I’m getting more comfortable using the chair when I have to, because I’ve learned that people are far less bothered by the chair than I am.

Ironically, I was more anxious in the chair in front of friends and family than in front of strangers. Walking around with a limp for nearly my entire life has numbed me to the stares of strangers. It was harder for me to succumb to the chair in the presence of people who have known me for years. It’s not like they didn’t know that I had a handicap, but it was important to me to show that I wasn’t that abnormal, especially to people who I have walked beside for years.. Hell, I hunted, skied, golfed and ran beside some of these people before the wear and tear of awkward movement made that impossible. I worried that somehow my relationships would change with the new limitations. Fortunately, using the chair has only improved my relationships.

For the last few years, I would skip games and other outings, because the walking they required made me uncomfortable during them and miserable afterward. I don’t have that problem in the chair, and my friends and family realize that and they are thankful that I was able to set my ego aside and ride. I have even relented and let some people push the chair. That was a big step for me, especially with my childhood friends with whom I used to compete for male dominance. None of have them have shown the discomfort I feared, and they all are eager to help.

Again, I’d much prefer a life without the occasional use of the chair, but that wasn’t the fate I was handed. Accepting that fate with a positive attitude has been rewarded with an enhanced feeling and appreciation of kindness that I otherwise wouldn’t have enjoyed.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to enjoy and spread kindness, but you might have to consciously participate. Just slow down and take the time to be kind and appreciate kindness. In short order, you’ll find that kindness requires little investment and pays huge dividends.

 

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