New Castle News

May 14, 2012

Lisa Madras: We judge, and we are being judged

Lisa Madras
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Am I too judgmental?

Last week, on the way home from work, I almost ran straight into an oncoming ambulance. And I guess there's nothing like a near-death experience to make you feel philosophical. (I've had at least four of those so far in life — maybe that's why I'm always asking questions.)

I'll try to make a long story as short as possible so I can get to the real point, so forgive me if this seems "listy." I'd just finished my sixth straight day of working with a sinus infection. That afternoon, the infection had suddenly and inexplicably moved into my ears with such force that not only was  I almost deaf, I was blessed with that ringing that's usually reserved for someone who just had a cannon blast directly beside their head. With no one to call for a ride, and two kids getting off the bus in 10 minutes, I had to make it the two miles to my home.

Just my luck to get stuck behind what I can only ascertain to be either a drunk or someone slipping into a diabetic coma. For several blocks I followed this woman as she veered into the wrong lane, toe-tapped her breaks, and changed her speed approximately every seven seconds. When she finally pulled over to the side of the road, I took my chance and went around her (there were two lanes our direction, and nobody coming behind us in the inner lane.)

As I went by her car, I glanced into her window just to make sure she actually wasn't passing out from some health emergency. She looked back at me like she was looking at Jack the Ripper. OooooKaaaaay ... strange look, but conscious and seemingly healthy.

I turned my eyes back toward to road to find an ambulance barreling toward me, and only a few hundred feet away. Thanks to my non-functioning ears, I heard it at the same moment I saw it.

Luckily, I was able to slip my car over directly in front of the woman I'd passed, and the ambulance went safely by. I pulled back into traffic, recovering from my heart attack, and all around me other drivers were signaling to me that I was Number One. How nice! They just saw me risk my life to check on an old lady, and were showing their support.

Oops, guess that finger isn't really a show of appreciation, but a mean-spirited directive of what the signer wants you to do to yourself. (Not nice!) I drove the rest of the way home in tears, and heaven knows how many other dangerous situations I may have created now that I was deaf, in pain, AND crying while operating a vehicle.  

I felt so unfairly judged. I made a mistake, but in the eyes of a dozen or so people around me, I was the worst kind of jerk imaginable. I wanted to get out of my car and shout to everyone, "I ALWAYS pull over for ambulances! I NEVER park in handicapped spaces. I'm one of the good guys, dang it!"

But I couldn't, and they wouldn't have cared anyhow. They had already put me in the same category as people who don't support gay marriage, believe in white supremacy, and drown kittens in burlap sacks — the same kind of person who won't pull over to let an ambulance get by. In hindsight, I should have found someone to drive me home that day; but even so, my crime was more an act of stupidity than one of malice.

So I keep wondering how often I judge others without knowing all the facts. I feel like I don't, but just to be sure, I took a few online quizzes to assess my "judgment factor." Turns out that while I don't often say things to people, I'm what's known as quietly discerning.

I get angry with people who get impatient at stores (don't shop if you don't have time to shop!). But what if they're there to get medicine and have a sick child to get home to? I have little patience for rude waiters/waitresses (don't work with the public if you don't like people!) But what if their favorite pet was put to sleep the evening before, and they couldn't take off work to grieve? And even as a formerly morbidly obese person, I wonder how in the world someone would let themselves get to 400 or 500 pounds. (There's a million reasons for this one, and I know them all personally.)

And so I judge, and am judged.

I guess it's going to happen. Judgments are, in some small manner, a way for us to assess and analyze people and situations. The type of judgments that we have to make sure we steer clear of, though, are the ones we use for the purpose of separation and negativity, and taking the easy way out to make ourselves appear better than others in our own eyes. My "quiet discernment" is no less selfish than the behavior of those who are outwardly so.

It wouldn't kill any of us to be a little more forgiving in our discernment of others' behavior, and if not walk a mile in their moccasins, at least understand that they may have a pebble in their shoe.  

It would also do us well to remember that when we pass judgment on another, it's more a reflection of who we really are than of who they are.